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Note from a Killer 

V 


Poor Mr. Poirot — 

Not so good at these little criminal matters as you 
thought yourself, ore you? Rather past your prime, 
perhaps? Let us see if you can do any better this 
time. This time it's an easy one. Churston on the 
30th. Do try and do something about itl It's a bit dull 
having it all my own way, you knowl 

Good hunting. €ver yours, 
fl.B.C. 


TH€ R.B.C. MURD6RS 



Berkley Books by Agatha Christie 


AND THEN THERE WERE NONE • THE GOLDEN BALL AND OTHER STORIES • 
THE MAN IN THE BROWN SUIT • THE MYSTERIOUS MR. QUIN • 

N OR M? • PARKER PYNE INVESTIGATES (also published as 
MR. PARKER PYNE, DETECTIVE) • PARTNERS IN CRIME • 

THE SECRET ADVERSARY • THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS • 

THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY (also published as THE MURDER AT HAZELMOOR) • 
THEY CAME TO BAGHDAD • TOWARDS ZERO • 

WHY DIDN’T THEY ASK EVANS? (also published as THE BOOMERANG CLUE) 

AGATHA CHRISTIE: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY 

STAR OVER BETHLEHEM 

Featuring Hercule Poirot 

THE A.B.C. MURDERS • APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH • 

THE BIG FOUR • CARDS ON THE TABLE • 

DEATH IN THE CLOUDS (also published as DEATH IN THE AIR) • 
dumb witness (also published as poirot loses a client) • 
ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER • EVIL UNDER THE SUN • 
five little pigs (also published as MURDER in retrospect) • 

HALLOWE’EN PARTY • THE HOLLOW • THE LABORS OF HERCULES • 

LORD EDGWARE DIES (also published as THIRTEEN AT DINNER) ♦ 
MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA • MURDER IN THE MEWS 

(also published as dead man’s mirror) • the murder on the links • 

THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES • THE MYSTERY OF THE BLUE TRAIN • 
ONE, TWO. BUCKLE MY SHOE (also published as THE PATRIOTIC MURDERS) • 
PERIL AT END HOUSE • TAKEN AT THE FLOOD (also published as 
THERE IS A TIDE. . . ) • THREE ACT TRAGEDY (also published as 
MURDER IN THREE ACTS) • THE UNDERDOG AND OTHER STORIES • 

THE WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION AND OTHER STORIES 

Featuring Miss Jane Marple 

DOUBLE SIN AND OTHER STORIES • 

MISS MARPLE: THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES • THE MOVING FINGER • 
MURDER AT THE VICARAGE • A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED * 

A POCKET FULL OF RYE • THE REGATTA MYSTERY AND OTHER STORIES • 
THE THIRTEEN PROBLEMS (also published as THE TUESDAY CLUB MURDERS) • 
THREE BLIND MICE AND OTHER STORIES 




B 

BERKLEY BOOKS, NEW YORK 


If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this 
book is stolen property. It was reported as ““unsold and destroyed” to the 
publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any 
payment for this “stripped book.” 


This Berkley book contains the complete text of the 
hardcover edition. It has been completely reset in a typeface 
designed for easy reading and was printed from new film. 

THE A.B.C. MURDERS 

A Berkley Book / published by arrangement with 
G. P. Putnam’s Sons 

PRINTING HISTORY 

Dodd, Mead edition published 1936 
Berkley edition / November 1991 

All rights reserved. 

Copyright © 1935, 1936 by Agatha Christie. 

Copyright © renewed 1962, 1963 by Agatha Christie Mallowan. 
Book design by Virginia M. Smith. 

This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part, 
by mimeograph or any other means, without permission. 

For information address: 

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc., 

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ISBN: 0-425- 13024-X 

BERKLEY® 

Berkley Books are published by 

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375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014. 
BERKLEY and the “B” design are trademarks 
belonging to Berkley Publishing Corporation. 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 


20 19 18 17 




Foreword 

by Captain Arthur Hastings, 0.8.6. 


In this narrative of mine I have departed from my usual practice of .re- 
lating only those incidents and scenes at which I myself was present. 
Certain chapters, therefore, are written in the third person. 

I wish to assure my readers that I can vouch for the occurrences re- 
lated in these chapters. If I have taken a certain poetic license in de- 
scribing the thoughts and feelings of various persons, it is because I 
believe I have set them down with a reasonable amount of accuracy. I 
may add that they have been “vetted” by my friend Hercule Poirot 
himself. 

In conclusion, I will say that if I have described at too great length 
some of the secondary personal relationships which arose as a conse- 
quence of this strange series of crimes, it is because the human and per- 
sonal element can never be ignored. Hercule Poirot once taught me in a 
very dramatic manner that romance can be a by-product of crime. 

As to the solving of the A.B.C. mystery, I can only say that in my 
opinion Poirot showed real genius in the way he tackled a problem en- 
tirely unlike any which had previously come his way. 




Contents 


V 


1. The Letter 

1 

II. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

7 

III. Andover 

8 

IV. Mrs. flscher 

13 

V. Mary Drouuer 

18 

VI. The Scene of the Crime 

23 

VII. Mr. Partridge and Mr. Riddell 

31 

VIII. The Second Letter . 

36 

IX. The Bexhill-on-Sea Murder 

43 

X. The Barnards 

50 

XI. Megan Barnard 

55 

XII. Donald Fraser 

60 

XIII. FI Conference 

64 

XIV. The Third Letter 

70 

XV. Sir Carmichael Clarke 

76 

XVI. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

83 

XVII. Marking Time 

86 

XVIII. Poirot Makes a Speech 

91 

XIX. By UJay of Sweden 

100 

XX. Lady Clarke 

104 


vil 



viii 


CONTENTS 


XXL Description of a Murderer 

in 

XXil. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personai Narrative) 

116 

XXIIL September 1 1 th. Doncaster 

121 

XXIV. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

128 

XXV. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

130 

XXVI. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

132 

XXVII. The Doncaster Murder 

135 

XXVIII. (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

141 

XXIX. Rt Scotland Vard 

148 

XXX.* (Not from Captain Hastings' 


Personal Narrative) 

151 

XXXI. Hercule Poirot Rsks Questions 

153 

XXXII. Rnd Catch a fox 

159 

XXXIII. Rlexander Bonaparte Cust 

164 

XXXIV. Poirot explains 

169 

XXXV. 

182 



I. The Letter 


V 


It was in June of 1 935 that I came home from my ranch in South Amer- 
ica for a stay of about six months. It had been a difficult time for us out 
there. Like every one else, we had suffered from world depression. I 
had various affairs to see to in England that I felt could only be suc- 
cessful if a personal touch was introduced. My wife remained to man- 
age the ranch. 

I need hardly say that one of my first actions on reaching England 
was to look up my old friend, Hercule Poirot. 

I found him installed in one of the newest type of service flats in 
London. I accused him (and he admitted the fact) of having chosen this 
particular building entirely on account of its strictly geometrical ap- 
pearance and proportions. 

“But yes, my friend, it is of a most pleasing symmetry, do you not 
find it so?” 

I said that I thought there could be too much squareness and, allud- 
ing to an old joke, I asked if in this super-modem hostelry they man- 
aged to induce hens to lay square eggs? 

* Poirot laughed heartily. 

“Ah, you remember that? Alas! no — science has not yet induced the 
hens to conform to modem tastes, they still lay eggs of different sizes 
and colours!” 

I examined my old friend with an affectionate eye. He was looking 
wonderfully well-r-hardly a day older than when I had last seen him. 

1 



2 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“You’re looking in fine fettle, Poirot,” I said. “You’ve hardly aged 
at all. In fact, if it were possible, I should say that you had fewer grey 
hairs than when I saw you last.” 

Poirot beamed on me. 

“And why is that not possible? It is quite true.” 

“Do you mean your hair is turning from grey to black instead of 
from black to grey?” 

“Precisely.” 

“But surely that’s a scientific impossibility!” 

“Not at all.” 

“But that’s very extraordinary. It seems against nature.” 

“As usual, Hastings, you have the beautiful and unsuspicious mind. 
Years do not change that in you! You perceive a fact and mention the 
solution of it in the same breath without noticing that you are doing 
so!” 

I stared at him puzzled. 

Without a word he walked into his bedroom and returned with a bot- 
tle in his hand which he handed to me. 

I took it, for the moment uncomprehending. 

It bore the words: 

Revivit. — To bring back the natural tone of the hair. Revivit is 

not a dye. In five shades , Ash Chestnut, Titian, Brown, Black. 

“Poirot,” I cried. “You have dyed your hair!” 

“Ah, the comprehension comes to you!” 

“So that's why your hair looks so much blacker than it did last time 
I was back.” 

“Exactly.” 

“Dear me,” I said, recovering from the shock. “I suppose next time I 
come home I shall find you wearing false moustaches — or are you 
doing so now?” 

Poirot winced. His moustaches had always been his sensitive point 
He was inordinately proud of them. My words touched him on the raw. 

“No, no, indeed, mon ami. That day, I pray the good God, is still far 
off. The false moustaches! Quelle horreurr 

He tugged at them vigorously to assure me of their genuine charac- 
ter. 

“Well, they are very luxuriant still,” I said. 

“ N'est-ce pas? Never, in the whole of London, have I seen a pair of 
moustaches to equal mine.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


3 


A good job too, I thought privately. But I would not for the world 
have hurt Poirot’s feelings by saying so. 

Instead I asked if he still practiced his profession on occasions. 

“I know,” I said, “that you actually retired years ago — ” 

“C’est vrai. To grow the vegetable marrows! And immediately a 
murder occurs — and I send the vegetable marrows to promenade 
themselves to the devil. And since then — I know very well what you 
will say — I am like the Prima Donna who makes positively the fare- 
well performance! That farewell performance, it repeats itself an in- 
definite number of times!” 

I laughed. 

“In truth, it has been very like that. Each time I say; This is the end. 
But no, something else arises! And I will admit it, my friend, the retire- 
ment I care for it not at all. If the little grey cells are not exercised, they 
grow the rust.” 

“I see,” I said. “You exercise them in moderation.” 

“Precisely. I pick and choose. For Hercule Poirot nowadays only the 
cream of crime.” 

“Has there been much cream about?” 

“ Pas mal Not long ago I had a narrow escape.” 

“Of failure?” 

“No, no.” Poirot looked shocked. “But I — /, Hercule Poirot , was 
nearly exterminated.” 

I whistled. 

“An enterprising murderer!” 

“Not so much enterprising as careless,” said Poirot. “Precisely 
that — careless. But let us not talk of it. You know, Hastings, in many 
ways I regard you as my mascot.” 

“Indeed?” I said. “In what ways?” 

Poirot did not answer my question directly. He went on: 

“As soon as I heard you were coming over I said to myself: Some- 
thing will arise. As in former days we will hunt together, we two. But if 
so it must be no common affair. It must be something” — he waved his 
hands excitedly — “something recherche — delicate— /zne . . He gave 
the last untranslatable word its full flavour. 

“Upon my word, Poirot,” I said. “Any one would think you were or- 
dering a dinner at the Ritz ” 

“Whereas one cannot command a crime to order? Very true.” He 
sighed. “But I believe in luck — in destiny, if you will. It is your destiny 
to stand beside me and prevent me from committing the unforgivable 
error.” 



4 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“What do you call the unforgivable error?” 

“Overlooking the obvious.” 

I turned this over in my mind without quite seeing the point. 
“Well,” I said presently, smiling, “has this super crime turned up 
yet?” 

“Pas encore. At least — that is — ■” 

He paused. A frown of perplexity creased his forehead. His hands 
automatically straightened an object or two that I had inadvertently 
pushed awry. 

“I am not sure,” he said slowly. 

There was something so odd about his tone that I looked at him in 
surprise. 

The frown still lingered. 

Suddenly with a brief decisive nod of the head he crossed the room 
to a desk near the window. Its contents, I need hardly say, were all 
neatly docketed and pigeon-holed so that he was able at once to lay his 
hand upon the paper he wanted. 

He came slowly across to me, an open letter in his hand. He read it 
through himself, then passed it to me. 

‘Tell me, mon amir he said. “What do you make of this?” 

I took it from him with some interest. 

It was written on thickish white notepaper in printed characters: 

Mr. Hercule Poirot — You fancy yourself don't you , at solving 
mysteries that are too difficult for our poor thick-headed British po- 
lice? Let us see , Mr. Clever Poirot , just how clever you can be. Per- 
haps you'll find this nut too hard to crack. Look out for Andover on 
the 21st of the month. 

Yours , etc., 
A.B.C. 


I glanced at the envelope. That also was printed. 

“Postmarked W.C.l,” said Poirot as I turned my attention to the 
postmark. “Well, what is your opinion?” 

I shrugged my shoulders as I handed it back to him. 

“Some madman or other, I suppose.” 

“That is all you have to say?” 

“Well — doesn’t it sound like a madman to you?” 

“Yes, my friend, it does.” 

His tone was grave. I looked at him curiously. 

“You take this very seriously, Poirot.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


5 


“A madman, mon ami , is to be taken seriously. A madman is a very 
dangerous thing.” 

“Yes, of course, that is true. ... I hadn’t considered that point 

But what I meant was, it sounds more like a rather idiotic kind of hoax. 
Perhaps some convivial idiot who had had one over the eight.” 

“ Comment ? Nine? Nine what?” 

“Nothing-just an expression. I meant a fellow who was tight. No, 
damn it, a fellow who had had a spot too much to drink.” 

“ Merci , Hastings — the expression ‘tight’ I am acquainted with it. As 
you say, there may be nothing more to it than that ” 

“But you think there is?” I asked, struck by the dissatisfaction of his 
tone. 

Poirot shook his head doubtfully, but he did not speak. 

“What have you done about it?” I inquired. 

“What can one do? I showed it to Japp. He was of the same opinion 
as you — a stupid hoax — that was the expression he used. They get 
these things every day at Scotland Yard. I, too, have had my share ” 

“But you take this one seriously?” 

Poirot replied slowly. 

“There is something about that letter, Hastings, that I do not 
like, ...” 

In spite of myself, his tone impressed me. 

“You think— what?” 

He shook his head, and picking up the letter, put it away again in the 
desk. 

“If you really take it seriously, can’t you do something?” I asked. 

“As always, the man of action! But what is there to do? The county 
police have seen the letter but they, too, do not take it seriously. There 
are no fingerprints on it. There are no local clues as to the possible 
writer.” 

“In fact there is only your own instinct?” 

“Not instinct, Hastings. Instinct is a bad word. It is my 
knowledge — my experience — that tells me that something about that 
letter is wrong — ” 

He gesticulated as words failed him, then shook his head again, 

“I may be making the mountain out of the anthill. In any case there 
is nothing to be done but wait.” 

“Well, the 21st is Friday. If a whacking great robbery takes place 
near Andover then — ” 

“Ah, what a comfort that would be—!” 



6 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“A comfort ?” I stared. The word seemed to be a very extraordinary 
one to use. 

“A robbery may be a thrill but it can hardly be a comfort!” I pro- 
tested. 

Poirot shook his head energetically. 

“You are in error, my friend. You do not understand my meaning. A 
robbery would be a relief since it would dispossess my mind of the fear 
of something else.” 

“Of what?” 

“Murder, ” said Hercule Poirot. 



II. (Not from Captain Hastings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust rose from his seat and peered near- 
sightedly round the shabby bedroom. His back was stiff from sitting in 
a cramped position and as he stretched himself to his full height an on- 
looker would have realized that he was, in reality, quite a tall man. His 
stoop and his near-sighted peering gave a delusive impression. 

Going to a well-worn overcoat hanging on the back of the door, he 
took from the pocket a packet of cheap cigarettes and some matches. 
He lit a cigarette and then returned to the table at which he had been 
sitting. He picked up a railway guide and consulted it, then he returned 
to the consideration of a typewritten list of names. With a pen, he made 
a tick against one of the first names on the list. 

It was Thursday, June 20th. 



III. Andover 


V 


I ' had been impressed at the time by Poirot’s forebodings about the 
anonymous letter he had received, but I must admit that the matter had 
passed from my mind when the 21st actually arrived and the first re- 
minder of it came with a visit paid to my friend by Chief Inspector 
Japp of Scotland Yard. The C.I.D. inspector had been known to us for 
many years and he gave me a hearty welcome. 

"‘Well, I never,” he exclaimed. “If it isn’t Captain Hastings back 
from the wilds of the what do you call it! Quite like old days seeing 
you here with Monsieur Poirot. You’re looking well, too. Just a little 
bit thin on top, eh? Well, that’s what we’re all coming to. I’m the 
same.” 

I winced slightly. I was under the impression that owing to the care- 
ful way I brushed my hair across the top of my head that thinness re- 
ferred to by Japp was quite unnoticeable. However, Japp had never 
been remarkable for tact where I was concerned so I put a good face 
upon it and agreed that we were none of us getting any younger. 

“Except Monsieur Poirot here,” said Japp. “Quite a good advertise- 
ment for a hair tonic, he’d be. Face fungus sprouting finer than ever. 
Coming out into the limelight, too, in his old age. Mixed up in all the 
celebrated cases of the day. Train mysteries, air mysteries, high society 
deaths — oh, he’s here, there and everywhere. Never been so celebrated 
as since he retired.” 


8 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


9 


“I have already told Hastings that I am like the Prima Donna wjio 
makes always one more appearance,” said Poirot, smiling. 

“Shouldn’t wonder if you ended by detecting your own death,” said 
Japp, laughing heartily. “That’s an idea, that is. Ought to be put in a 
book” 

“It will be Hastings who will have to do that,” said Poirot, twinkling 
at me. 

“Ha ha! That would be a joke, that would,” laughed Japp. 

I failed to see why the idea was so extremely amusing, and in any 
case I thought the joke was in poor taste. Poirot, poor old chap, is get- 
ting on. Jokes about his approaching demise can hardly be agreeable to 
him. 

Perhaps my manner showed my feelings, for Japp changed the sub- 
ject. 

“Have you heard about Monsieur Poirot’s anonymous letter?” he 
asked. 

“I showed it to Hastings the other day,” said my friend. 

“Of course,” I exclaimed. “It had quite slipped my memory. Let me 
see, what was the date mentioned?” 

“The 21st,” said Japp. “That’s what I dropped in about. Yesterday 
was the 21st and just out of curiosity I rang up Andover last night. It 
was a hoax all right. Nothing doing. One broken shop window — kid 
throwing stones — and a couple of drunk and disorderlies. So just for 
once our Belgian friend was barking up the wrong tree.” 

“I am relieved, I must confess,” acknowledged Poirot. 

“You’d quite got the wind up about it, hadn’t you?” said Japp affec- 
tionately. “Bless you, we get dozens of letters like that coming in every 
day! People with nothing better to do and a bit weak in the top story sit 
down and write ’em. They don’t mean any harm! Just a kind of excite- 
ment.” 

“I have indeed been foolish to take the matter so seriously,” said 
Poirot. “It is the nest of the horse that I put my nose into there.” 

“You’re mixing up mares and wasps,” said Japp. 

“Pardon?” 

“Just a couple of proverbs. Well, I must be off. Got a little business 
in the next street to see to — receiving stolen jewelry. I thought I’d just 
drop in on my way and put your mind at rest. Pity to let those grey cells 
function unnecessarily.” 

With which words and a hearty laugh, Japp departed. 

“He does not change much, the good Japp, eh?” asked Poirot 



10 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“He looks much older,” I said. “Getting as grey as a badger,” I 
added vindictively. 

Poirot coughed and said: 

“You know, Hastings, there is a little device — my hairdresser is a 
man of great ingenuity — one attaches it to the scalp and brushes one's 
own hair over it — it is not a wig, you comprehend — but — ■” 

“Poirot,” I roared. “Once and for all I will have nothing to do with 
the beastly inventions of your confounded hairdresser. What's the mat- 
ter with the top of my head?” 

“Nothing — nothing at all.” 

“It’s not as though I were going balcl” 

“Of course not! Of course not!” 

“The hot summers out there naturally cause the hair to fall out a bit. 
I shall take back a really good hair tonic.” 

“Precisement. ” 

“And, anyway, what business is it of Japp’s? He always was an of- 
fensive kind of devil. And no sense of humour. The kind of man who 
laughs when a chair is pulled away just as a man is about to sit down.” 

“A great many people would laugh at that.” 

“It’s utterly senseless.” 

“From the point of view of the man about to sit, certainly it is.” 

“Well,” I said, slightly recovering my temper. (I admit that I am 
touchy about the thinness of my hair.) “I'm sorry that anonymous letter 
business came to nothing.” 

“I have indeed been in the wrong over that. About that letter, there 
was, I thought, the odour of the fish. Instead a mere stupidity. Alas, I 
grow old and suspicious like the blind watch-dog who growls when 
there is nothing there.” 

“If I’m going to co-operate with you, we must look about for some 
other ‘creamy’ crime,” I said with a laugh. 

“You remember your remark of the other day? If you could order a 
crime as one orders a dinner, what would you choose?” 

I fell in with his humour. 

“Let me see now. Let's review the menu. Robbery? Forgery? No, I 
think not. Rather too vegetarian. It must be murder — red-blooded 
murder — with trimmings, of course.” 

“Naturally. The hors d’ oeuvres” 

“Who shall the victim be — man or woman? Man, I think. Some big- 
wig. American millionaire. Prime Minister. Newspaper proprietor. 
Scene of the crime — well, what’s wrong with the good old library? 
Nothing like it for atmosphere. As for the weapon — well, it might be a 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


11 


curiously twisted dagger — or some blunt instrument — a carved stone 
idol—” 

Poirot sighed. 

“Or, of course,” I said, “there’s poison — but that’s always so techni- 
cal. Or a revolver shot echoing in the night. Then there must be a beau- 
tiful girl or two — ” 

“With auburn hair,” murmured my friend. 

“Your same old joke. One of the beautiful girls, of course, must be 
unjustly suspected — and there’s some misunderstanding between her 
and the young man. And then, of course, there must be some other 
suspects — an older woman — dark, dangerous type — and some friend 
or rival of the dead man’s — and a quiet secretary — dark horse — and a 
hearty man with a bluff manner — and a couple of discharged servants 
or gamekeepers or something — and a damn fool of a detective rather 
like Japp — and well — that’s about all.” 

“That is your idea of the cream, eh?” 

“I gather you don’t agree.” 

Poirot looked at me sadly. 

“You have made there a very pretty r6sum6 of nearly all the detec- 
tive stories that have ever been written.” 

“Well,” I said. “What would you order?” 

Poirot closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. His voice came 
purringly from between his lips. 

“A very simple crime. A crime with no complications. A crime of 
quiet domestic life . . . very unimpassioned — very intime” 

“How can a crime be intimeV 

“Supposing,” murmured Poirot, “that four people sit down to play 
bridge and one, the odd man out, sits in a chair by the fire. At the end of 
the evening the man by the fire is found dead. One of the four, while he 
is dummy, has gone over and killed him, and, intent on the play of the 
hand, the other three have not noticed. Ah, there would be a crime for 
you l Which of the four was it?” 

“Well,” I said. “I can’t see any excitement in that!” 

Poirot threw me a glance of reproof. 

“No, because there are no curiously twisted daggers, no blackmail, 
no emerald that is the stolen eye of a god, no untraceable Eastern poi- 
sons. You have the melodramatic soul, Hastings. You would like, not 
one murder, but a series of murders.” 

“I admit,” I said, “that a second murder in a book often cheers things 
up. If the murder happens in the first chapter, and you have to follow 



12 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


up everybody’s alibi until the last page but one — well, it does get a bit 
tedious.” 

The telephone rang and Poirot rose to answer. 

“ ’Alio,” he said. “ ’Alio. Yes, it is Hercule Poirot speaking.” 

He listened for a minute or two and then I saw his face change. 

His own side of the conversation was short and disjointed. 

“ Mais oui . . . 

“Yes, of course . . . 

“But yes, we will come . . . 

“Naturally . . . 

“It may be as you say . . . 

“Yes, I will bring it. A tout a Vheure then.” 

He replaced the receiver and came across the room to me. 

“That was Japp speaking, Hastings.” 

“Yes?” 

“He had just got back to the Yard. There was a message from Ando- 
ver. ...” 

“Andover?” I cried excitedly. 

Poirot said slowly: 

“An old woman of the name of Ascher who keeps a little tobacco 
and newspaper shop has been found murdered.” 

I think I felt ever so slightly damped. My interest, quickened by the 
sound of Andover, suffered a faint check. I had expected something 
fantastic — out of the way! The murder of an old woman who kept a lit- 
tle tobacco shop seemed, somehow, sordid and uninteresting. 

Poirot continued in the same slow, grave voice: 

“The Andover police believe they can put their hand on the man 
who did it — ” 

I felt a second throb of disappointment. 

“It seems the woman was on bad terms with her husband. He drinks 
and is by way of being rather a nasty customer. He’s threatened to take 
her life more than once. 

“Nevertheless,” continued Poirot, “in view of what has happened, the 
police there would like to have another look at the anonymous letter I 
received. I have said that you and I will go down to Andover at once.” 

My spirits revived a little. After all, sordid as this crime seemed to 
be, it was a crime , and it was a long time since I had had any associa- 
tion with crime and criminals. 

I hardly listened to the next words Poirot said. But they were to 
come back to me with significance later. 

“This is the beginning,” said Hercule Poirot. 



IV. Mrs. flscher 


V 


We were received at Andover by Inspector Glen, a tall, fair-haired man 
with a pleasant smile. 

For the sake of conciseness I think I had better give a brief resume of 
the bare facts of the case. 

The crime was discovered by Police Constable Dover at 1 a.m. on 
the morning of the 22nd. When on his round he tried the door of the 
shop and found it unfastened. He entered and at first thought the place 
was empty. Directing his torch over the counter, however, he caught 
sight of the huddled-up body of the old woman. When the police sur- 
geon arrived on the spot it was elicited that the woman had been struck 
down by a heavy blow on the back of the head, probably while she was 
reaching down a packet of cigarettes from the shelf behind the counter. 
Death must have occurred about nine to seven hours previously. 

“But we’ve been able to get it down a bit nearer than that,” ex- 
plained the inspector. “We’ve found a man who went in and bought 
some tobacco at 5:30. And a second man went in and found the shop 
empty, as he thought, at five minutes past six. That puts the time at be- 
tween 5:30 and 6:05. So far I haven’t been able to fmd any one who 
saw this man Ascher in the neighbourhood, but, of course, if s early as 
yet. He was in the Three Crowns at nine o’clock pretty far gone in 
drink. When we get hold of him he’ll be detained qn suspicion.” 

“Not a very desirable character, inspector?” asked Poirot 

“Unpleasant bit of goods.” 


13 



14 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“He didn’t live with his wife?” 

“No, they separated some years ago. Ascher’s a German. He was a 
waiter at one time, but he took to drink and gradually became unem- 
ployable. His wife went into service for a bit. Her last place was as 
cook-housekeeper to an old lady. Miss Rose. She allowed her husband 
so much out of her wages to keep himself, but he was always getting 
drunk and coming round and making scenes at the places where she 
was employed. That’s why she took the post with Miss Rose at The 
Grange. It’s three miles out of Andover, dead in the country. He 
couldn’t get at her there so well. When Miss Rose died, she left Mrs. 
Ascher a small legacy, and the woman started this tobacco and news- 
agent business — quite a tiny place— just cheap cigarettes and a few 
newspapers— that sort of thing. She just about managed to keep going. 
Ascher used to come round and abuse her now and again and she used 
to give him a bit to get rid of him. She allowed him fifteen shillings a 
week regular.” 

“Had they any children?” asked Poirot. 

“No. There’s a niece. She’s in service near Overton. Very superior, 
steady young woman.” 

“And you say this man Ascher used to threaten his wife?” 

“That’s right. He was a terror when he was in drink — cursing and 
swearing that he’d bash her head in. She had a hard time, did Mrs. 
Ascher.” 

“What age of woman was she?” 

“Close on sixty — respectable and hard-working.” 

Poirot said gravely: 

“It is your opinion, inspector, that this man Ascher committed the 
crime?” 

The inspector coughed cautiously. 

“It’s a bit early to say that, Mr. Poirot, but Fd like to hear Franz 
Ascher’s own account of how he spent yesterday evening. If he can 
give a satisfactory account of himself, well and good — if not — ” 

His pause was a pregnant one. 

“Nothing was missing from the shop?” 

“Nothing. Money in the till quite undisturbed. No signs of robbery.” 

“You think that this man Ascher came into the shop drunk, started 
abusing his wife and finally struck her down?” 

“It seems the most likely solution. But I must confess, sir. I’d like to 
have another look at that veiy odd letter you received. I was wondering 
if it was just possible that it came from this man Ascher,” 

Poirot handed over the letter and the inspector read it with a frown. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


15 


“It doesn’t read like Ascher,” he said at last. “I doubt if Ascher 
would use the term ‘our’ British police — not unless he was trying to be 
extra cunning — and I doubt if he’s got the wits for that. Then the man’s 
a wreck — all to pieces. His hand’s too shaky to print letters clearly like 
this. It’s good quality notepaper and ink, too. It’s odd that the letter 
should mention the 21st of the month. Of course it might be a coinci- 
dence.” 

“That is possible — yes.” 

“But I don’t like this kind of coincidence, Mr. Poirot. It’s a bit too 
pat.” 

He was silent for a minute or two — a frown creasing his forehead. 

“A.B.C. Who the devil could A.B.C. be? We’ll see if Mary Drower 
(that’s the niece) can give us any help. It’s an odd business. But for this 
letter I’d have put my money on Franz Ascher for a certainty.” 

“Do you know anything of Mrs. Ascher ’s past?” 

“She’s a Hampshire woman. Went into service as a girl up in 
London — that’s where she met Ascher and married him. Things must 
have been difficult for them during the war. She actually left him for 
good in 1922. They were in London then. She came back here to get 
away from him, but he got wind of where she was and followed her 
down here, pestering her for money — ” A constable came in. “Yes, 
Briggs, what is it?” 

“It’s the man Ascher, sir. We’ve brought him in.” 

“Right. Bring him in here. Where was he?” 

“Hiding in a truck on the railway siding.” 

“He was, was he? Bring him along.” 

Franz Ascher was indeed a miserable and unprepossessing speci- 
men. He was blubbering and cringing and blustering alternately. His 
bleary eyes moved shiftily from one face to another. 

“What do you want with me? I have not done nothing. It is a shame 
and a scandal to bring me here! You are swine, how dare you?” His 
manner changed suddenly. “No, no, I do not mean that — you would 
not hurt a poor old man — not be hard on him. Every one is hard on 
poor old Franz. Poor old Franz.” 

Mr. Ascher started to weep. 

“That’ll do, Ascher,” said the inspector. “Pull yourself together. I’m 
not charging you with anything — yet. And you’re not bound to make a 
statement unless you like. On the other hand, if you’re not concerned 
in the murder of your wife — ” 



16 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


Ascher interrupted him— his voice rising to a scream. 

“I did not kill her! I did not kill her! It is all lies! You are goddamned 
English pigs — all against me. I never kill her — never.” 

“You threatened to often enough, Ascher.” 

“No, no. You do not understand. That was just a joke — a good joke 
between me and Alice. She understood.” 

“Funny kind of joke! Do you care to say where you were yesterday 
evening, Ascher?” 

“Yes, yes — I tell you everything. I did not go near Alice. I am with 
friends— good friends. We are at the Seven Stars — and then we are at 
the Red Dog — ■” 

He hurried on, his words tumbling over each other. 

“Dick Willows — he was with me — and old Curdie — and George — 
and Platt and lots of the boys. I tell you I do not never go near Alice. 
Ach Gott , it is the truth I am telling you.” 

His voice rose to a scream. The inspector nodded to his underling. 

“Take him away. Detained on suspicion.” 

“I don’t know what to think,” he said as the unpleasant shaking old 
man with the malevolent, mouthing jaw was removed. “If it wasn’t for 
the letter. I’d say he did it.” 

“What about the men he mentions?” 

“A bad crowd — not one of them would stick at perjury. I’ve no 
doubt he was with them the greater part of the evening. A lot depends 
on whether any one saw him near the shop between half-past five and 
six.” 

Poirot shook his head thoughtfully. 

“You are sure nothing was taken from the shop?” 

The inspector shrugged his shoulders. “That depends. A packet or 
two of cigarettes might have been taken — but you’d hardly commit 
murder for that.” 

“And there was nothing — how shall I put it — introduced into the 
shop. Nothing that was odd there — incongruous?” 

“There was a railway guide,” said the inspector. 

“A railway guide?” 

“Yes. It was open and turned face downward on the counter. Looked 
as though some one had been looking up the trains from Andover. Ei- 
ther the old woman or a customer.” 

“Did she sell that type of thing?” 

The inspector shook his head. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


17 


“She sold penny time-tables. This was a big one — kind of thing only 
Smith’s or a big stationer would keep.” 

A light came into Poirot’s eyes. He leant forward. 

“A railway guide, you say. A Bradshaw — or an A.B.C. ?” 

A light came into the inspector’s eyes also. 

“By the Lord,” he said. “It was an A.B.C.” 



V. Mary Drawer 
V 


I think that I can date my interest in the case from the First mention of 
the A.B.C. railway guide. Up till then I had not been able to raise much 
enthusiasm. This sordid murder of an old woman in a back street shop 
was so like the usual type of crime reported in the newspapers that it 
failed to strike a significant note. In my own mind I had put down the 
anonymous letter with its mention of the 21st as a mere coincidence. 
Mrs. Ascher, I felt reasonably sure, had been the victim of her drunken 
brute of a husband. But now the mention of the railway guide (so fa- 
miliarly known by its abbreviation of A.B.C., listing as it did all rail- 
way stations in their alphabetical order) sent a quiver of excitement 
through me. Surely — surely this could not be a second coincidence? 

The sordid crime took on a new aspect. 

Who was the mysterious individual who had killed Mrs. Ascher and 
left an A.B.C. railway guide behind him? 

When we left the police station our first visit was to the mortuary to 
see the body of the dead woman. A strange feeling came over me as I 
gazed down on that wrinkled old face with the scanty grey hair drawn 
back tightly from the temples. It looked so peaceful, so incredibly re- 
mote from violence. 

“Never knew who or what struck her/’ observed the sergeant. 
“That’s what Dr. Kerr says. I’m glad it was that way, poor old soul. A 
decent woman she was.” 

“She must have been beautiful once,” said Poirot. 

18 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


19 


“Really?” I murmured incredulously. 

“But yes, look at the line of the jaw, the bones, the moulding of the 
head.” 

He sighed as he replaced the sheet and we left the mortuary. 

Our next move was a brief interview with the police surgeon. 

Dr. Kerr was a competent-looking middle-aged man. He spoke 
briskly and with decision. 

“The weapon wasn’t found,” he said. “Impossible to say what it 
may have been. A weighted stick, a club, a form of sandbag — any of 
those would fit the case.” 

“Would much force be needed to strike such a blow?” 

The doctor shot a keen glance at Poirot. 

“Meaning, I suppose, could a shaky old man of seventy do it? Oh, 
yes, it’s perfectly possible — given sufficient weight in the head of the 
weapon, quite a feeble person could achieve the desired result.” 

“Then the murderer could just as well be a woman as a man?” 

The suggestion took the doctor somewhat aback. 

“A woman, eh? Well, I confess it never occurred to me to connect a 
woman with this type of crime. But of course it’s possible — perfectly 
possible. Only, psychologically speaking, I shouldn’t say this was a 
woman’s crime.” 

Poirot nodded his head in eager agreement. 

“Perfectly, perfectly. On the face of it, highly improbable. But one 
must take all possibilities into account. The body was lying — how?” 

The doctor gave us a careful description of the position of the vic- 
tim. It was his opinion that she had been standing with her back to the 
counter (and therefore to her assailant) when the blow had been struck. 
She had slipped down in a heap behind the counter quite out of sight of 
any one entering the shop casually. 

When we had thanked Dr. Kerr and taken our leave, Poirot said: 

“You perceive, Hastings, that we have already one further point in 
favour of Ascher’s innocence. If he had been abusing his wife and 
threatening her, she would have been facing him over die counter. In- 
stead, she had her back to her assailant — obviously she is reaching 
down tobacco or cigarettes for a customer .” 

I gave a little shiver. 

“Pretty gruesome.” 

Poirot shook his head gravely. 

“ Pauvre femme, ” he murmured. 

Then he glanced at his watch. 



20 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Overton is not, I think, many miles from here. Shall we run over 
there and have an interview with the niece of the dead woman?” 

“Surely you will go first to the shop where the crime took place?” 

“I prefer to do that later. I have a reason.” 

He did not explain further, and a few minutes later we were driving 
on the London road in the direction of Overton. 

The address which the inspector had given us was that of a good- 
sized house about a mile on the London side of the village. 

Our ring at the bell was answered by a pretty dark-haired girl whose 
eyes were red with recent weeping. 

Poirot said gently: 

“Ah! I think it is you who are Miss Mary Drawer, the parlourmaid 
here?” 

“Yes, sir, that’s right. I’m Mary, sir.” 

“Then perhaps I can talk to you for a few minutes if your mistress 
will not object. It is about your aunt, Mrs. Ascher.” 

“The mistress is out, sir. She wouldn’t mind, I’m sure, if you came 
in here.” 

* She opened the door of a small morning-room. We entered and 
Poirot, seating himself on a chair by the window, looked up keenly into 
the girl’s face. 

“You have heard of your aunt’s death, of course?” 

The girl nodded, tears coming once more into her eyes. 

“This morning, sir. The police came over. Oh! it’s terrible! Poor 
auntie! Such a hard life as she’d had, too. And now this — it’s too aw- 
ful.” 

“The police did not suggest your returning to Andover?” 

“They said I must come to the inquest — that’s on Monday, sir. But 
I’ve nowhere to go there — I couldn’t fancy being over the shop — 
now — and what with the housemaid being away. I didn’t want to put 
the mistress out more than may be.” 

“You were fond of your aunt, Mary?” said Poirot gently. 

“Indeed I was, sir. Vexy good she’s been to me always, auntie has. I 
went to her in London when I was eleven years old, after mother died. 
I started in service when I was sixteen, but I usually went along to 
auntie’s on my day out. A lot of trouble she went through with that 
German fellow. *My old devil,’ she used to call him. He’d never let her 
be in peace anywhere. Sponging, cadging old beast.” 

The girl spoke with vehemence. 

“Your aunt never thought of freeing herself by legal means from this 
persecution?” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


21 


“Well, you see, he was her husband, sir, you couldn’t get away from 
that.” 

The girl spoke simply but with finality. 

‘Tell me, Mary, he threatened her, did he not?” 

“Oh, yes, sir, it was awful the things he used to say. That he’d cut her 
throat, and such like. Cursing and swearing too — both in German and 
in English. And yet auntie says he was a fine handsome figure of a man 
when she married him. It’s dreadful to think, sir, what people come to.” 

“Yes, indeed. And so, I suppose, Mary, having actually heard these 
threats, you were not so very surprised when you learnt what had hap- 
pened?” 

“Oh, but I was, sir. You see, sir, I never thought for one moment that 
he meant it. I thought it was just nasty talk and nothing more to it. And 
it isn’t as though auntie was afraid of him. Why, I’ve seen him slink 
away like a dog with its tail between its legs when she turned on him. 
He was afraid of her if you like.” 

“And yet she gave him money?” 

“Well, he was her husband, you see, sir.” 

“Yes, so you said before.” He paused for a minute or two. Then he 
said: “Suppose that, after all, he did not kill her.” 

“Didn’t kill her?” 

She stared. 

‘That is what I said. Supposing some one else killed her. . . . Have 
you any idea who that some one else could be?” 

She stared at him with even more amazement. 

“Fve no idea, sir. It doesn’t seem likely, though, does it?” 

“There was no one your aunt was afraid of?” 

Mary shook her head. 

“Auntie wasn’t afraid of people. She’d a sharp tongue and she’d 
stand up to anybody.” 

“You never heard her mention any one who had a grudge against 
her?” 

“No, indeed, sir.” 

“Did she ever get anonymous letters?” 

“What kind of letters did you say, sir?” 

“Letters that weren’t signed — or only signed by something like 
A.B.C.” He watched her narrowly, but plainly she was at a loss. She 
shook her head wonderingly. 

“Has your aunt any relations except you?” 

“Not now, sir. One of ten she was, but only three lived to grow up. 
My Uncle Tom was killed in the war, and my Uncle Harry went to 



22 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


South America and no one’s heard of him since, and mother’s dead, of 
course, so there’s only me.” 

“Had your aunt any savings? Any money put by?” 

“She’d a little in the Savings Bank, sir — enough to bury her proper, 
that’s what she always said. Otherwise she didn’t more than just make 
ends meet — what with her old devil and all.” 

Poirot nodded thoughtfully. He said — perhaps more to himself than 
to her: 

“At present one is in the dark — there is no direction — if things get 
clearer — ■” He got up. “If I want you at any time, Mary, I will write to 
you here.” 

“As a matter of fact, sir, I’m giving in my notice. I don’t like the 
country. I stayed here because I fancied it was a comfort to auntie to 
have me near by. But now” — again the tears rose in her eyes — “there’s 
no reason I should stay, and so I’ll go back to London. It’s gayer for a 
girl there.” 

“I wish that, when you do go, you would give me your address. Here 
is my card.” 

He handed it to her. She looked at it with a puzzled frown. 

“Then you’re not — anything to do with the police, sir?” 

“I am a private detective.” 

She stood there looking at him for some moments in silence. 

She said at last: 

“Is there anything — queer going on, sir?” 

“Yes, my child. There is — something queer going on. Later you may 
be able to help me.” 

“I — I’ll do anything, sir. It — it wasn’t right , sir, auntie being killed.” 

A strange way of putting it — but deeply moving. 

A few seconds later we were driving back to Andover. 



VI. The Scene of the Crime 


V 


The street in which the tragedy had occurred was a turning off the main 
street. Mrs. Ascher’s shop was situated about half-way down it on the 
right-hand side. 

As we turned into the street Poirot glanced at his watch and I real- 
ized why he had delayed his visit to the scene of the crime until now. It 
was just on half-past five. He had wished to reproduce yesterday’s at- 
mosphere as closely as possible. 

But if that had been his purpose it was defeated. Certainly at this 
moment the road bore very little likeness to its appearance on the pre- 
vious evening. There were a certain number of small shops inter- 
spersed between private houses of the poorer class. I judged that 
ordinarily there would be a fair number of people passing up and 
down — mostly people of the poorer classes, with a good sprinkling of 
children playing on the pavements and in the road. 

At this moment there was a solid mass of people standing staring at 
one particular house or shop and it took little perspicuity to guess 
which that was. What we saw was a mass of average human beings 
looking with intense interest at the spot where another human being 
had been done to death. 

As we drew nearer this proved to be indeed the case. In front of a 
small dingy-looking shop with its shutters now closed stood a 
harassed-looking young policeman who was stolidly adjuring the 
crowd to “pass along there.” By the help of a colleague, displacements 

23 



24 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


took place — a certain number of people grudgingly sighed and betook 
themselves to their ordinary vocations, and almost immediately other 
persons came along and took up their stand to gaze their full on the 
spot where murder had been committed. 

Poirot stopped a little distance from the main body of the crowd. 
From where we stood the legend painted over the door could be read 
plainly enough. Poirot repeated it under his breath. 

“A. Ascher. Oui, c’est peut~etre la — ■” 

He broke off. 

“Come, let us go inside, Hastings.” 

I was only too ready. 

We made our way through the crowd and accosted the young police- 
man. Poirot produced the credentials which the inspector had given 
him. The constable nodded, and unlocked the door to let us pass 
within. We did so and entered to the intense interest of the lookers-on. 

Inside it was very dark owing to the shutters being closed. The 
constable found and switched on the electric light. The bulb was a low- 
powered one so that the interior was still dimly lit. 

I looked about me. 

A dingy little place. A few cheap magazines strewn about, and yes- 
terday’s newspapers — all with a day’s dust on them. Behind the 
counter a row of shelves reaching to the ceiling and packed with to- 
bacco and packets of cigarettes. There were also a couple of jars of 
peppermint humbugs and barley sugar. A commonplace little shop, 
one of many thousand such others. 

The constable in his slow Hampshire voice was explaining the mise 
en scene . 

“Down in a heap behind the counter, that’s where she was. Doctor 
says as how she never knew what hit her. Must have been reaching up 
to one of the shelves.” 

“There was nothing in her hand?” 

“No, sir, but there was a packet of Players down beside her.” 

Poirot nodded. His eyes swept round the small space observing — 
noting. 

“And the railway guide was — where?” 

“Here, sir.” The constable pointed out the spot on the counter. “It 
was open at the right page for Andover and lying face down. Seems as 
though he must have been looking up the trains to London. If so, 
’twasn’t an Andover man at all. But then, of course, the railway guide 
might have belonged to some one else what had nothing to do with the 
murder at all, but just forgot it here ” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


25 


“Fingerprints?” I suggested. 

The man shook his head. 

“The whole place was examined straight away, sir. There weren’t 
none.” 

“Not on the counter itself?” asked Poirot. 

“A long sight too many, sir! All confused and jumbled up.” 

“Any of Ascher’s among them?” 

‘Too soon to say, sir.” 

Poirot nodded, then asked if the dead woman lived over the shop. 

“Yes, sir, you go through that door at the back, sir. YouTl excuse me 
from coming with you, but I’ve got to stay — ” 

Poirot passed through the door in question and I followed him. Be- 
hind the shop was a microscopic sort of parlour and kitchen 
combined — it was neat and clean but very dreary-looking and scantily 
furnished. On the mantelpiece were a few photographs. I went up and 
looked at them and Poirot joined me. 

The photographs were three in all. One was a cheap portrait of the 
girl we had been with that afternoon, Mary Drower. She was obviously 
wearing her best clothes and had the self-conscious, wooden smile on 
her face that so often disfigures the expression in posed photography, 
and makes a snapshot preferable. 

The second was a more expensive type of picture — an artistically 
blurred reproduction of an elderly woman with white hair. A high fur 
collar stood up round the neck. 

I guessed that this was probably the Miss Rose who had left Mrs. 
Ascher the small legacy which had enabled her to start in business. 

The third photograph was a very old one, now faded and yellow. It 
represented a young man and woman in somewhat old-fashioned 
clothes standing arm in arm. The man had a flower in his button-hole 
and there was an air of bygone festivity about the whole pose. 

“Probably a wedding picture,” said Poirot. “Regard, Hastings, did I 
not tell you that she had been a beautiful woman?” 

He was right. Disfigured by old-fashioned hair-dressing and weird 
clothes, there was no disguising the handsomeness of the girl in the 
picture with her clear-cut features and spirited bearing. I looked 
closely at the second figure. It was almost impossible to recognize the 
seedy Ascher in this smart young man with the military bearing. 

I recalled the leering drunken old man, and the worn, toil-wom face 
cf the dead woman — and I shivered a little at the remorselessness of 
ime 

From the parlour a stair led to two upstairs rooms. One was empty 



26 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


and unfurnished, the other had evidently been the dead woman’s bed- 
room. After being searched by the police it had been left as it was. A 
couple of old worn blankets on the bed — a little stock of well-darned 
underwear in a drawer — cookery recipes in another — a paperbacked 
novel entitled The Green Oasis — a pair of new stockings — pathetic in 
their cheap shininess — a couple of china ornaments — a Dresden shep- 
herd much broken, and a blue and yellow spotted dog — a black rain- 
coat and a woolly jumper hanging on pegs — such were the worldly 
possessions of the late Alice Ascher. 

If there had been any personal papers, the police had taken them. 

“Pauvre femme, ” murmured Poirot. “Come, Hastings, there is noth- 
ing for us here.” 

When we were once more in the street, he hesitated for a minute or 
two, then crossed the road. Almost exactly opposite Mrs. Ascher’s was 
a greengrocer’s shop — of the type that has most of its stock outside 
rather than inside. 

In a low voice Poirot gave me certain instructions. Then he himself 
entered the shop. After waiting a minute or two I followed him in. He 
was at the moment negotiating for a lettuce. I myself bought a pound 
of strawberries. 

Poirot was talking animatedly to the stout lady who was serving 
him. 

“It was just opposite you, was it not, that this murder occurred? 
What an affair! What a sensation it must have caused you!” 

The stout lady was obviously tired of talking about the murder. She 
must have had a long day of it. She observed: 

“It would be as well if some of that gaping crowd cleared off. What 
is there to look at, I’d like to know?” 

“It must have been very different last night,” said Poirot. “Possibly 
you even observed the murderer enter the shop — a tall, fair man with a 
beard, was he not? A Russian, so I have heard.” 

“What’s that?” The woman looked up sharply. “A Russian did it, 
you say?” 

“I understand that the police have arrested him.” 

“Did you ever now?” The woman was excited, voluble. “A for- 
eigner.” 

“ Mais out I thought perhaps you might have noticed him last 
night?” 

“Well, I don’t get much chance of noticing, and that’s a fact. The 
evening’s our busy time and there’s always a fair few passing along 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


27 


and getting home after their work. A tall, fair man with a beard — no, I 
can’t say I saw any one of that description anywhere about.” 

I broke in on my cue. 

“Excuse me, sir,” I said to Poirot “I think you have been misin- 
formed. A short dark man I was told.” 

An interested discussion intervened in which the stout lady, her lank 
husband and a hoarse-voiced shopboy all participated. No less than 
four short dark men had been observed, and the hoarse boy had seen a 
tall fair one, “but he hadn’t got no beard,” he added regretfully. 

Finally, our purchases made, we left the establishment, leaving our 
falsehoods uncorrected. 

“And what was the point of all that, Poirot?” I demanded somewhat 
reproachfully. 

“ Parbleu , I wanted to estimate the chances of a stranger being no- 
ticed entering the shop opposite.” 

“Couldn’t you simply have asked — without all that tissue of lies?” 

“No, mon ami. If I had ‘simply asked,’ as you put it, I should have 
got no answer at all to my questions. You yourself are English and yet 
you do not seem to appreciate the quality of the English reaction to a 
direct question. It is invariably one of suspicion and the natural result 
is reticence. If I had asked those people for information they would 
have shut up like oysters. But by making a statement (and a somewhat 
out-of-the-way and preposterous one) and by your contradiction of it, 
tongues are immediately loosened. We know also that that particular 
time was a ‘busy time’ — that is, that every one would be intent on their 
own concerns and that there would be a fair number of people passing 
along the pavements. Our murderer chose his time well, Hastings.” 

He paused and then added on a deep note of reproach: 

“Is it that you have not in any degree the common sense, Hastings? I 
say to you: ‘Make the purchase quel conque ’ — and you deliberately 
choose the strawberries! Already they commence to creep through 
their bag and endanger your good suit.” 

With some dismay, I perceived that this was indeed the case. 

I hastily presented the strawberries to a small boy who seemed 
highly astonished and faintly suspicious. 

Poirot added the lettuce, thus setting the seal on the child’s bewilder- 
ment. 

He continued to drive the moral home. 

“At a cheap greengrocer’s — not strawberries. A strawberry, unless 
fresh picked, is bound to exude juice. A banana — some apples — even a 
cabbage — but strawberries — ” 



28 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“It was the first thing I thought of,” I explained by way of excuse. 

“That is unworthy of your imagination,” returned Poirot sternly. 

He paused on the sidewalk. 

The house and shop on the right of Mrs. Ascher’s was empty. A “To 
Let” sign appeared in the windows. On the other side was a house with 
somewhat grimy muslin curtains. 

To this house Poirot betook himself and, there being no bell, exe- 
cuted a series of sharp flourishes with the knocker. 

The door was opened after some delay by a very dirty child with a 
nose that needed attending to. 

“Good-evening,” said Poirot. “Is your mother within?” 

“Ay?” said the child. 

It stared at us with disfavour and deep suspicion. 

“Your mother,” said Poirot. 

This took some twelve seconds to sink in, then the child turned 
and, bawling up the stairs, “Mum, you’re wanted,” retreated to some 
fastness in the dim interior. 

A sharp-faced woman looked over the balusters and began to de- 
scend. 

“No good you wasting your time — ” she began, but Poirot inter- 
rupted her. 

He took off his hat and bowed magnificently. 

“Good-evening, madame. I am on the staff of the Evening Flicker. I 
want to persuade you to accept a fee of five pounds and let us have an 
article on your late neighbour, Mrs. Ascher.” 

The irate words arrested on her lips, the woman came down the 
stairs smoothing her hair and hitching at her skirt. 

“Come inside, please — on the left there. Won’t you sit down, sir.” 

The tiny room was heavily over-crowded with a massive pseudo- 
Jacobean suite, but we managed to squeeze ourselves in and on to a 
hard-seated sofa. 

“You must excuse me,” the woman was saying. “I am sure I’m sorry 
I spoke so sharp just now, but you’d hardly believe the worry one has 
to put up with — fellows coming along selling this, that and the other — 
vacuum cleaners, stockings, lavender bags and such like foolery — and 
all so plausible and civil spoken. Got your name, too, pat they have. 
It’s Mrs. Fowler this, that and the other.” 

Seizing adroitly on the name, Poirot said: 

“Well, Mrs. Fowler, I hope you’re going to do what I ask.” 

“I don’t know, I’m sure.” The five pounds hung alluringly before 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


29 


Mrs. Fowler’s eyes. “I knew Mrs. Ascher, of course, but as to writing 
anything.” 

Hastily Poirot reassured her. No labour on her part was required. He 
would elicit the facts from her and the interview would be written up. 

Thus encouraged, Mrs. Fowler plunged willingly into reminiscence, 
conjecture and hearsay. 

Kept to herself, Mrs. Ascher had. Not what you’d call really 
friendly , but there, she’d had a lot of trouble, poor soul, every one 
knew that. And by right Franz Ascher ought to have been locked up 
years ago. Not that Mrs. Ascher had been afraid of him — a real tartar 
she could be when roused! Give as good as she got any day. But there it 
was — the pitcher could go to the well once too often. Again and again, 
she, Mrs. Fowler, had said to her: “One of these days that man will do 
for you. Mark my words.” And he had done, hadn’t he? And there had 
she, Mrs. Fowler, been right next door and never heard a sound. 

In a pause Poirot managed to insert a question. 

Had Mrs. Ascher ever received any peculiar letters — letters without 
a proper signature — just something like A.B.C.? 

Regretfully, Mrs. Fowler returned a negative answer. 

“I know the kind of thing you mean — anonymous letters they call 
them — mostly full of words you’d blush to say out loud. Well, I don’t 
know, I’m sure, if Franz Ascher ever took to writing those. Mrs. 
Ascher never let on to me if he did. What’s that? A railway guide, an 
A.B.C.? No, I never saw such a thing about — and I’m sure if Mrs. 
Ascher had been sent one I’d have heard about it. I declare you could 
have knocked me down with a feather when I heard about this whole 
business. It was my girl Edie what came to me. ‘Mum,’ she says, 
‘there’s ever so many policemen next door.’ Gave me quite a turn, it 
did. ‘Well,’ I said, when I heard about it, ‘it does show that she ought 
never to have been alone in the house — that niece of hers ought to have 
been with her. A man in drink can be like a ravening wolf,’ I said, ‘and 
in my opinion a wild beast is neither more nor less than what that old 
devil of a husband of hers is. I’ve warned her,’ I said, ‘many times and 
now my words have come true. He’ll do for you,’ I said. And he has 
done for her! You can’t rightly estimate what a man will do when he’s 
in drink and this murder’s a proof of it.” 

She wound up with a deep gasp. 

“Nobody saw this man Ascher go into the shop, I believe?” said 
Poirot. 

Mrs. Fowler sniffed scornfully. 

“Naturally he wasn’t going to show himself,” she said. 



30 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


How Mr. Ascher had got there without showing himself she did not 
deign to explain. 

She agreed that there was no back way into the house and that 
Ascher was quite well known by sight in the district. 

“But he didn’t want to swing for it and he kept himself well hid.” 

Poirot kept the conversational ball rolling some little time longer but 
when it seemed certain that Mrs. Fowler had told all that she knew not 
once but many times over, he terminated the interview, first paying out 
the promised sum. 

“Rather a dear five pounds’ worth, Poirot,” I ventured to remark 
when we were once more in the street. 

“So far, yes.” 

“You think she knows more than she has told?” 

“My friend, we are in the peculiar position of not knowing what 
questions to ask. We are like little children playing Cache Cache in the 
dark. We stretch out our hands and grope about. Mrs. Fowler has told 
us all that she thinks she knows — and has thrown in several conjec- 
tures for good measure! In the future, however, her evidence may be 
useful. It is for the future that I have invested that sum of five pounds.” 

I did not quite understand the point, but at this moment we ran into 
Inspector Glen. 



VII. Mr. Partridge and 
Mr. Riddell 


V 


Inspector Glen was looking rather gloomy. He had, I gathered, spent 
the afternoon trying to get a complete list of persons who had been no- 
ticed entering the tobacco shop. 

“And nobody has seen any one?” Poirot inquired. 

“Oh, yes, they have. Three tali men with furtive expressions — four 
short men with black moustaches — two beards — three fat men — all 
strangers — and all, if I’m to believe witnesses, with sinister expres- 
sions! I wonder somebody didn’t see a gang of masked men with re- 
volvers while they were about it!” 

Poirot smiled sympathetically. 

“Does anybody claim to have seen the man Ascher?” 

“No, they don’t. And that’s another point in his favour. I’ve just told 
the Chief Constable that I think this is a job for Scotland Yard. I don’t 
believe it’s a local crime.” 

Poirot said gravely: 

“I agree with you.” 

The inspector said: 

“You know, Monsieur Poirot, it’s a nasty business — a nasty 
business ... I don’t like it ” 

We had two more interviews before returning to London. 

The first was with Mr. James Partridge. Mr. Partridge was the last 
person known to have seen Mrs. Ascher alive. He had made a purchase 
from her at 5:30. 


31 



32 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


Mr. Partridge was a small, spare man, a bank clerk by profession. He 
wore pince-nez, was very dry and spare-looking and extremely precise 
in all his utterances. He lived in a small house as neat and trim as him- 
self. 

“Mr, — er — Poirot,” he said, glancing at the card my friend had 
handed to him. “From Inspector Glen? What can I do for you, Mr. 
Poirot?” 

“I understand, Mr. Partridge, that you were the last person to see 
Mrs. Ascher alive.” 

Mr. Partridge placed his finger-tips together and looked at Poirot as 
though he were a doubtful cheque. 

“That is a very debatable point, Mr. Poirot,” he said. “Many people 
may have made purchases from Mrs. Ascher after I did so.” 

“If so, they have not come forward to say so.” 

Mr. Partridge coughed. 

“Some people, Mr. Poirot, have no sense of public duty.” 

He looked at us owlishly through his spectacles. 

“Exceedingly true,” murmured Poirot. “You, I understand, went to 
the police of your own accord?” 

“Certainly I did. As soon as I heard of the shocking occurrence I 
perceived that my statement might be helpful and came forward ac- 
cordingly.” 

“A very proper spirit,” said Poirot solemnly. “Perhaps you will be 
so kind as to repeat your story to me.” 

“By all means. I was returning to this house and at 5:30 precisely — ” 

“Pardon, how was it that you knew the time so accurately?” 

Mr. Partridge looked a little annoyed at being interrupted. 

“The church clock chimed. I looked at my watch and found I was a 
minute slow. That was just before I entered Mrs. Ascher’s shop.” 

“Were you in the habit of making purchases there?” 

“Fairly frequently. It was on my way home. About once or twice a 
week I was in the habit of purchasing two ounces of John Cotton 
mild.” 

“Did you know Mrs. Ascher at all? Anything of her circumstances 
or her history?” 

“Nothing whatever. Beyond my purchase and an occasional remark 
as to the state of the weather, I had never spoken to her.” 

“Did you know she had a drunken husband who was in the habit of 
threatening her life?” 

“No, I knew nothing whatever about her.” 

“You knew her by sight, however. Did anything about her appear- 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


33 


ance strike you as unusual yesterday evening? Did she appear flurried 
or put out in any way?” 

Mr. Partridge considered. 

“As far as I noticed, she seemed exactly as usual,” he said, 

Poirot rose. 

“Thank you, Mr. Partridge, for answering these questions. Have 
you, by any chance, an A.B.C. in the house? I want to look up my re- 
turn train to London.” 

“On the shelf just behind you,” said Mr. Partridge. 

On the shelf in question were an A.B.C., a Bradshaw, the Stock 
Exchange Year Book, Kelly’s Directory, a Who’s Who and a local di- 
rectory. 

Poirot took down the A.B.C., pretended to look up a train, then 
thanked Mr. Partridge and took his leave. 

Our next interview was with Mr. Albert Riddell and was of a highly 
different character. Mr. Albert Riddell was a plate-layer and our con- 
versation took place to the accompaniment of the clattering of plates 
and dishes by Mr. Riddell’s obviously nervous wife, the growling of 
Mr. Riddell’s dog and the undisguised hostility of Mr. Riddell himself. 

He was a big clumsy giant of a man with a broad face and small sus- 
picious eyes. He was in the act of eating meatpie, washed down by ex- 
ceedingly black tea. He peered at us angrily over the rim of his cup. 

“Told all I’ve got to tell once, haven’t I?” he growled. “What’s it to 
do with me, anyway? Told it to the blarsted police, I ’ave, and now I’ve 
got to spit it all out again to a couple of blarsted foreigners.” 

Poirot gave a quick amused glance in my direction and then said: 

“In truth I sympathize with you, but what will you? It is a question 
of murder, is it not? One has to be very, very careful.” 

“Best tell the gentleman what he wants, Bert,” said the woman nerv- 
ously. 

“You shut your blarsted mouth,” roared the giant. 

“You did not, I think, go to the police of your own accord.” Poirot 
slipped the remark in neatly. 

“Why the hell should I? It were no business of mine.” 

“A matter of opinion,” said Poirot indifferently. “There has been a 
murder — the police want to know who has been in the shop— I myself 
think it would have — what shall I say? — looked more natural if you 
had come forward.” 

“I’ve got my work to do. Don’t say I shouldn’t have come forward 
in my own time — ” 

“But as it was, the police were given your name as that of a person 



34 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


seen to go into Mrs. Ascher’s and they had to come to you. Were they 
satisfied with your account?” 

“Why shouldn’t they be?” demanded Bert truculently. 

Poirot merely shrugged his shoulders. 

“What are you getting at, mister? Nobody’s got anything against 

me! Every one knows who did the old girl in, that b of a husband 

of hers.” 

“But he was not in the street that evening and you were.” 

“Trying to fasten it on me, are you? Well, you won’t succeed. What 
reason had I got to do a thing like that? Think I wanted to pinch a tin of 
her bloody tobacco? Think I’m a bloody homicidal maniac as they call 
it? Think I—?” 

He rose threateningly from his seat. His wife bleated out: 

“Bert, Bert — don’t say such things. Bert — they’ll think — ” 

“Calm yourself. Monsieur,” said Poirot. “I demand only your ac- 
count of your visit. That you refuse it seems to me — what shall we 
say — a little odd?” 

“Who said I refused anything?” Mr. Riddell sank back again into his 
seat. “I don’t mind.” 

“It was six o’clock when you entered the shop?” 

'That’s right — a minute or two after, as a matter of fact. Wanted a 
packet of Gold Flake. I pushed open the door — ■” 

“It was closed, then?” 

‘That’s right. I thought shop was shut, maybe. But it wasn’t. I went 
in, there wasn’t any one about. I hammered on the counter and waited a 
bit. Nobody came, so I went out again. That’s all, and you can put it in 
your pipe and smoke it.” 

“You didn’t see the body fallen down behind the counter?” 

“No, no more would you have done — unless you was looking for it, 
maybe.” 

“Was there a railway guide lying about?” 

“Yes, there was — face downwards. It crossed my mind like that the 
old woman might have had to go off sudden by train and forgot to lock 
shop up.” 

“Perhaps you picked up the railway guide or moved it along the 
counter?” 

“Didn’t touch the b thing. I did just what I said.” 

“And you did not see any one leaving the shop before you yourself 
got there?” 

“Didn’t see any such thing. What I say is, why pitch on me — ?” 

Poirot rose. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


35 


“Nobody is pitching upon you — yet. Bon soir , Monsieur.” 

He left die man with his mouth open and I followed him. 

In the street he consulted his watch. 

“With great haste, my friend, we might manage to catch the 7:02. 
Let us dispatch ourselves quickly.” 



VIII. The Second Letter 


V 


“Well?” I demanded eagerly. 

We were seated in a first-class carriage which we had to ourselves. 
The train, an express, had just drawn out of Andover. 

“The crime,” said Poirot, “was committed by a man of medium 
height with red hair and a cast in the left eye. He limps slightly on the 
right foot and has a mole just below the shoulder-blade.” 

“Poirot?” I cried. 

For a moment I was completely taken in. Then the twinkle in my 
friend’s eye undeceived me. 

“Poirot!” I said again, this time in reproach. 

“Mon ami , what will you? You fix upon me a look of doglike devo- 
tion and demand of me a pronouncement a la Sherlock Holmes! Now 
for the truth — I do not know what the murderer looks like , nor where 
he lives , nor how to set hands upon him. ” 

“If only he had left some clue,” I murmured. 

“Yes, the clue — it is always the clue that attracts you. Alas that he 
did not smoke the cigarette and leave the ash, and then step in it with a 
shoe that has nails of a curious pattern. No — he is not so obliging. But 
at least, my friend, you have the railway guide. The A.B.C., that is a 
clue for you!” 

“Do you think he left it by mistake then?” 

“Of course not. He left it on purpose. The fingerprints tell us that.” 

“But there weren’t any on it.” 


36 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


37 


“That is what I mean. What was yesterday evening? A warm June 
night. Does a man stroll about on such an evening in glovesl Such a 
man would certainly have attracted attention. Therefore since there are 
no fingerprints on the A.B.C., it must have been carefully wiped. An 
innocent man would have left prints — a guilty man would not So our 
murderer left it there for a purpose — but for all that it is none the less a 
clue. That A.B.C. was bought by some one — it was carried by some 
one — there is a possibility there.” 

“You think we may learn something that way?” 

“Frankly, Hastings, I am not particularly hopeful. This man, this un- 
known X, obviously prides himself on his abilities. He is not likely to 
blaze a trail that can be followed straight away.” 

“So that really the A.B.C. isn’t helpful at all.” 

“Not in the sense you mean.” 

“In any sense?” 

Poirot did not answer at once. Then he said slowly: 

“The answer to that is yes. We are confronted here by an unknown 
personage. He is in the dark and seeks to remain in the dark. But in the 
very nature of things he cannot help throwing light upon himself. In 
one sense we know nothing about him — in another sense we know al- 
ready a good deal. I see his figure dimly taking shape — a man who 
prints clearly and well — who buys good quality paper — who is at great 
needs to express his personality. I see him as a child possibly ignored 
and passed over — I see him growing up with an inward sense of 
inferiority — warring with a sense of injustice. ... I see that inner 
urge — to assert himself — to focus attention on himself ever becoming 
stronger, and events, circumstances — crushing it down — heaping, per- 
haps, more humiliations on him. And inwardly the match is set to the 
powder train ” 

“That’s all pure conjecture,” I objected. “It doesn’t give you any 
practical help.” 

“You prefer the match end, the cigarette ash, the nailed boots! You 
always have. But at least we can ask ourselves some practical ques- 
tions. Why the A.B.C.? Why Mrs. Ascher? Why Andover?” 

‘The woman’s past life seems simple enough,” I mused. “The inter- 
views with those two men were disappointing. They couldn’t tell us 
anything more than we knew already.” 

“To tell the truth, I did not expect much in that line. But we could 
not neglect two possible candidates for the murder.” 

“Surely you don’t think — •” 

“There is at least a possibility that the murderer lives in or near An- 



38 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


dover. That is a possible answer to our question: ‘Why Andover?’ 
Well, here were two men known to have been in the shop at the requi- 
site time of day. Either of them might be the murderer. And there is 
nothing as yet to show that one or other of them is not the murderer.” 

“That great hulking brute, Riddell, perhaps,” I admitted. 

“Oh, I am inclined to acquit Riddell off-hand. He was nervous, blus- 
tering, obviously uneasy — •” 

“But surely that just shows — ■” 

“A nature diametrically opposed to that which penned the A.B.C. 
letter. Conceit and self-confidence are the characteristics that we must 
look for.” 

“Some one who throws his weight about?” 

“Possibly. But some people, under a nervous and self-effacing man- 
ner, conceal a great deal of vanity and self-satisfaction.” 

“You don’t think that little Mr. Partridge — ?” 

“He is more le type. One cannot say more than that. He acts as the 
writer of the letter would act — goes at once to the police — pushes him- 
self to the fore — enjoys his position.” 

“Do you really think — ?” 

“No, Hastings. Personally I believe that the murderer came from 
outside Andover, but we must neglect no avenue of research. And al- 
though I say ‘he’ all the time, we must not exclude the possibility of a 
woman being concerned.” 

“Surely not!” 

“The method of attack is that of a man, I agree. But anonymous let- 
ters are written by women rather than by men. We must bear that in 
mind.” 

I was silent for a few minutes, then I said: 

“What do we do next?” 

“My energetic Hastings,” Poirot said and smiled at me. 

“No, but what do we do?” 

“Nothing.” 

“Nothing?” My disappointment rang out clearly. 

“Am I the magician? The sorcerer? What would you have me do?” 

Turning the matter over in my mind I found it difficult to give an- 
swer. Nevertheless I felt convinced that something ought to be done 
and that we should not allow the grass to grow under our feet. 

I said: 

“There is the A.B.C. — and the notepaper and envelope — •” 

“Naturally everything is being done in that line. The police have all 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


39 


the means at their disposal for that kind of inquiry. If anything is to be 
discovered on those lines have no fear but that they will discover it.” 

With that I was forced to rest content. 

In the days that followed I found Poirot curiously disinclined to dis- 
cuss the case. When I tried to reopen the subject he waved it aside with 
an impatient hand. 

In my own mind I was afraid that I fathomed his motive. Over the 
murder of Mrs. Ascher, Poirot had sustained a defeat. A.B.C. had chal- 
lenged him — and A.B.C. had won. My friend, accustomed to an un- 
broken line of successes, was sensitive to his failure — so much so that 
he could not even endure discussion of the subject. It was, perhaps, a 
sign of pettiness in so great a man, but even the most sober of us is lia- 
ble to have his head turned by success. In Poirot’s case the head- 
turning process had been going on for years. Small wonder if its effects 
became noticeable at long last. 

Understanding, I respected my friend’s weakness and I made no fur- 
ther reference to the case. I read in the paper the account of the inquest. 
It was very brief, no mention was made of the A.B.C. letter, and a ver- 
dict was returned of murder by some person or persons unknown. The 
crime attracted very little attention in the press. It had no popular or 
spectacular features. The murder of an old woman in a side street was 
soon passed over in the press for more thrilling topics. 

Truth to tell, the affair was fading from my mind also, partly, I think, 
because I disliked to think of Poirot as being in any way associated 
with a failure, when on July 25th it was suddenly revived. 

I had not seen Poirot for a couple of days as I had been away in 
Yorkshire for the week-end. I arrived back on Monday afternoon and 
the letter came by the six o’clock post. 1 remember the sudden, sharp 
intake of breath that Poirot gave as he slit open that particular enve- 
lope. 

“It has come,” he said. 

I stared at him — not understanding. 

“What has come?” 

“The second chapter of the A.B.C. business.” 

For a minute I looked at him uncomprehendingly. The matter had re- 
ally passed from my memory. 

“Read,” said Poirot and passed me over the letter. 

As before, it was printed on good-quality paper. 

Dear Mr. Poirot— Well, what about it? First game to me, I think. 

The Andover business went with a swing, didn't it? 



40 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


But the fun’s only just beginning. Let me draw your attention to 

Bexhill-on-Sea, the 25th inst. 

What a merry time we are having! Yours, etc., 

A.B.C. 

“Good God, Poirot,” I cried. “Does this mean that this fiend is going 
to attempt another crime?” 

“Naturally, Hastings. What else did you expect? Did you think that 
the Andover business was an isolated case? Do you not remember my 
saying: ‘This is the beginning’?” 

“But this is horrible!” 

“Yes, it is horrible.” 

“We’re up against a homicidal maniac.” 

“Yes.” 

His quietness was more impressive than any heroics could have 
been. I handed back the letter with a shudder. 

The following morning saw us at a conference of powers. The Chief 
Constable of Sussex, the Assistant Commissioner of the C.I.D., In- 
spector Glen from Andover, Superintendent Carter of the Sussex po- 
lice, Japp and a younger inspector called Crome, and Dr. Thompson, 
the famous alienist, were all assembled together. The postmark on this 
letter was Hampstead, but in Poirot’s opinion little importance could 
be attached to this fact. 

The matter was discussed fully. Dr. Thompson was a pleasant 
middle-aged man who, in spite of his learning, contented himself with 
homely language, avoiding the technicalities of his profession. 

“There’s no doubt,” said the Assistant Commissioner, “that the two 
letters are in the same hand. Both were written by the same person.” 

“And we can fairly assume that that person was responsible for the 
Andover murder.” 

“Quite. We’ve now got definite warning of a second crime sched- 
uled to take place on the 25th — to-morrow — at Bexhill. What steps 
can be taken?” 

The Sussex Chief Constable looked at his superintendent, 

“Well, Carter, what about it?” 

The superintendent shook his head gravely. 

“It’s difficult, sir. There’s not the least clue towards whom the vic- 
tim may be. Speaking fair and square, what steps can we take?” 

“A suggestion,” murmured Poirot. 

Their faces turned to him. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


41 


“I think it possible that the surname of the intended victim will be- 
gin with the letter B.” 

“That would be something,” said the superintendent doubtfully. 

“An alphabetical complex,” said Dr. Thompson thoughtfully. 

“I suggest it as a possibility — no more. It came into my mind when I 
saw the name Ascher clearly written over the shop door of the unfortu- 
nate woman who was murdered last month. When I got the letter nam- 
ing Bexhill it occurred to me as a possibility that the victim as well as 
the place might be selected by an alphabetical system.” 

“It’s possible,” said the doctor. “On the other hand, it may be that 
the name Ascher was a coincidence — that the victim this time, no mat- 
ter what her name is, will again be an old woman who keeps a shop. 
We’re dealing, remember, with a madman. So far he hasn’t given us 
any clue as to motive.” 

“Has a madman any motive, sir?” asked the superintendent skepti- 
cally. 

“Of course he has, man. A deadly logic is one of the special 
characteristics of acute mania. A man may believe himself divinely ap- 
pointed to kill clergymen — or doctors — or old women in tobacco 
shops — and there’s always some perfectly coherent reason behind it. 
We mustn’t let the alphabetical business run away with us. Bexhill suc- 
ceeding to Andover may be a mere coincidence.” 

“We can at least take certain precautions. Carter, and make a special 
note of the B’s, especially small shopkeepers, and keep a watch on all 
small tobacconists and newsagents looked after by a single person. I 
don’t think there’s anything more we can do than that. Naturally keep 
tabs on all strangers as far as possible.” 

The superintendent uttered a groan. 

“With the schools breaking up and the holidays beginning? People 
are fairly flooding into the place this week.” 

“We must do what we can,” the Chief Constable said sharply. 

Inspector Glen spoke in his tum. 

“I’ll have a watch kept on any one connected with the Ascher busi- 
ness. Those two witnesses, Partridge and Riddell, and of course on 
Ascher himself. If they show any signs of leaving Andover they’ll be 
followed.” 

The conference broke up after a few more suggestions and a little 
desultory conversation. 

“Poirot,” I said as we walked along by the river, “surely this crime 
can be prevented?” 

He turned a haggard face to me. 



42 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“The sanity of a city full of men against the insanity of one? I fear, 
Hastings — I very much fear. Remember the long-continued successes 
of Jack the Ripper.” 

“It’s horrible,” I said. 

“Madness, Hastings, is a terrible thing lam afraid . . .Iam very 

much afraid . ...” 



IX. The Bexhill-on-Sea Murder 


V 


I still remember my awakening on the morning of the 25th of July. It 
must have been about seven-thirty. 

Poirot was standing by my bedside gently shaking me by the shoul- 
der. One glance at his face brought me from semiconsciousness into 
full possession of my faculties. 

“What is it?” I demanded, sitting up rapidly. 

His answer came quite simply, but a wealth of emotion lay behind 
the three words he uttered. 

“It has happened. ” 

“What?” I cried. “You mean — but to-day is the 25th.” 

“It took place last night — or rather in the early hours of this morn- 
ing.” 

As I sprang from bed and made a rapid toilet, he recounted briefly 
what he had just learnt over the telephone. 

‘The body of a young girl has been found on the beach at Bexhill. 
She has been identified as Elizabeth Barnard, a waitress in one of the 
cafes, who lived with her parents in a little recently built bungalow. 
Medical evidence gave the time of death as between 11:30 and 1 a.m.” 

“They’re quite sure that this is the crime?” I asked, as I hastily lath- 
ered my face. 

“An A.B.C. open at the trains to Bexhill was found actually under 
the body , ” 

I shivered. 


43 



44 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“This is horrible!” 

“ Faites attention , Hastings. I do not want a second tragedy in my 
rooms!” 

I wiped the blood from my chin rather ruefully. 

“What is our plan of campaign?” I asked. 

“The car will call for us in a few moments’ time. I will bring you a 
cup of coffee here so that there will be no delay in starting.” 

Twenty minutes later we were in a fast police car crossing the 
Thames on our way out of London. 

With us was Inspector Crome, who had been present at the confer- 
ence the other day, and who was officially in charge of the case, 

Crome was a very different type of officer from Japp. A much youn- 
ger man, he was the silent, superior type. Well educated and well read, 
he was, for my taste, several shades too pleased with himself. He had 
lately gained kudos over a series of child murders, having patiently 
tracked down the criminal who was now in Broadmoor. 

He was obviously a suitable person to undertake the present case, 
but I thought that he was just a little too aware of the fact himself. His 
manner to Poirot was a shade patronizing. He deferred to him as a 
younger man to an older one — in a rather self-conscious, “public- 
school” way. 

“I’ve had a good long talk with Dr. Thompson,” he said. “He’s very 
interested in the ‘chain’ or ‘series’ type of murder. It’s the product of a 
particular distorted type of mentality. As a layman one can’t, of course, 
appreciate the finer points as they present themselves to a medical 
point of view.” He coughed. “As a matter of fact — my last case — I 
don’t know whether you read about it — the Mabel Homer case, the 
Muswell Hill schoolgirl, you know — that man Capper was extraordi- 
nary. Amazingly difficult to pin the crime on to him — it was his third, 
too! Looked as sane as you or I. But there are various tests — verbal 
traps, you know — quite modem, of course, there was nothing of that 
kind in your day. Once you can induce a man to give himself away, 
you’ve got him! He knows that you know and his nerve goes. He starts 
giving himself away right and left.” 

“Even in my day that happened sometimes,” said Poirot. 

Inspector Crome looked at him and murmured conversationally: 

“Oh, yes?” 

There was silence between us for some time. As we passed New 
Cross Station, Crome said: 

“If there’s anything you want to ask me about the case, pray do so.” 

“You have not, I presume, a description of the dead girl?” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


45 


“She was twenty-three years of age, engaged as a waitress at the 
Ginger Cat caf6 — ■” 

“ Pas ga. I wondered — if she were pretty?” 

“As to that I’ ve no information ,” said Inspector Crome with a hint of 
withdrawal. His manner said: “Really — these foreigners! All the 
same!” 

A final look of amusement came into Poirot’s eyes. 

“It does not seem to you important, that? Yet, pour une femme, it is 
of the first importance. Often it decides her destiny!” 

Inspector Crome fell back on his conversational full stop. 

“Oh, yes?” he inquired politely. 

Another silence fell. 

It was not until we were nearing Sevenoaks that Poirot opened the 
conversation again. 

“Were you informed, by any chance, how and with what the girl was 
strangled?” 

Inspector Crome replied briefly. 

“Strangled with her own belt — a thick, knitted affair, I gather.” 

Poirot’s eyes opened very wide. 

“Aha,” he said. “At last we have a piece of information that is very 
definite. That tells one something, does it not?” 

“I haven’t seen it yet,” said Inspector Crome coldly. 

I felt impatient with the man’s caution and lack of imagination. 

“It gives us the hall-mark of the murderer,” I said. “The girl’s own 
belt. It shows the particular beastliness of his mind!” 

Poirot shot me a glance I could not fathom. On the face of it it con- 
veyed humorous impatience. I thought that perhaps it was a warning 
not to be too outspoken in front of the inspector. 

I relapsed into silence. 

At Bexhill we were greeted by Superintendent Carter. He had with 
him a pleasant-faced, intelligent-looking young inspector called Kel- 
sey. The latter was detailed to work in with Crome over the case. 

“You’ll want to make your own inquiries, Crome,” said the superin- 
tendent. “So I’ll just give you the main heads of the matter and then 
you can get busy right away.” 

‘Thank you sir,” said Crome. 

“We’ve broken the news to her father and mother,” said the superin- 
tendent. ‘Terrible shock to them, of course. I left them to recover a bit 
before questioning them, so you can start from the beginning there.” 

“There are other members of the family — yes?” asked Poirot. 

“There’s a sister — a typist in London. She’s been communicated 



46 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


with. And there’s a young man — in fact, she was supposed to be out 
with him last night, I gather.” 

“Any help from the A.B.C. guide?” asked Crome. 

“It’s there,” the superintendent nodded towards the table. “No fin- 
gerprints. Open at the page for Bexhill. A new copy, I should say — 
doesn’t seem to have been opened much. Not bought anywhere round 
here. I’ve tried all the likely stationers!” 

“Who discovered the body, sir?” 

“One of these fresh-air, early-morning old colonels. Colonel 
Jerome. He was out with his dog about 6 a.m. Went along the front in 
the direction of Cooden, and down on to the beach. Dog went off and 
sniffed at something. Colonel called it. Dog didn’t come. Colonel had 
a look and thought something queer was up. Went over and looked. 
Behaved very properly. Didn’t touch her at all and rang us up immedi- 
ately.” 

“And the time of death was round about midnight last night?” 

“Between midnight and 1 a.m. — that’s pretty certain. Our homicidal 
joker is a man of his word. If he says the 25th, it is the 25th — though it 
may have been only by a few minutes.” 

Crome nodded. 

“Yes, that’s his mentality all right. There’s nothing else? Nobody 
saw anything helpful?” 

“Not as far as we know. But it’s early yet. Every one who saw a girl 
in white walking with a man last night will be along to tell us about it 
soon, and as I imagine there were about four or five hundred girls in 
white walking with young men last night, it ought to be a nice busi- 
ness.” 

“Well, sir, I’d better get down to it,” said Crome. “There’s the cafe 
and there’s the girl’s home. I’d better go to both of them. Kelsey can 
come with me.” 

“And Mr. Poirot?” asked the superintendent. 

“I will accompany you,” said Poirot to Crome with a little bow. 

Crome, I thought, looked slightly annoyed. Kelsey, who had not 
seen Poirot before, grinned broadly. 

It was an unfortunate circumstance that the first time people saw my 
friend they were always disposed to consider him as a joke of the first 
water. 

“What about this belt she was strangled with?” asked Crome. “Mr. 
Poirot is inclined to think it’s a valuable clue. I expect he’d like to see 
it.” 

u Du tout , ” said Poirot quickly. “You misunderstood me.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


47 


“You’ll get nothing from that,” said Carter. “It wasn’t a leather 
belt — might have got fingerprints if it had been. Just a thick sort of 
knitted silk — ideal for the purpose.” 

I gave a shiver. 

“Well,” said Crome, “we’d better be getting along.” 

We set out forthwith. 

Our first visit was to the Ginger Cat. Situated on the sea front, this 
was the usual type of small tea-room. It had little tables covered with 
orange-checked cloths and basket-work chairs of exceeding discom- 
fort with orange cushions on them. It was the kind of place that spe- 
cialized in morning coffee, five different kinds of teas (Devonshire, 
farmhouse, fruit, Carlton and plain), and a few sparing lunch dishes for 
females such as scrambled eggs and shrimps and macaroni au gratin. 

The morning coffees were just getting under way. The manageress 
ushered us hastily into a very untidy back sanctum. 

“Miss — er — Merrion?” inquired Crome. 

Miss Merrion bleated out in a high, distressed gentlewoman voice: 

“That is my name. This is a most distressing business. Most dis- 
tressing. How it will affect our business I really cannot thinkl ” 

Miss Merrion was a very thin woman of forty with wispy orange 
hair (indeed she was astonishingly like a ginger cat herself). She 
played nervously with various fichus and frills that were part of her of- 
ficial costume. 

“You’ll have a boom,” said Inspector Kelsey encouragingly. “You’ll 
see! You won’t be able to serve teas fast enough!” 

“Disgusting,” said Miss Merrion. “ Truly disgusting. It makes one 
despair of human nature.” 

But her eye brightened nevertheless. 

“What can you tell me about the dead girl, Miss Merrion?” 

“Nothing,” said Miss Merrion positively. “Absolutely nothing!” 

“How long had she been working here?” 

“This was the second summer.” 

“You were satisfied with her?” 

“She was a good waitress — quick and obliging.” 

“She was pretty, yes?” inquired Poirot. 

Miss Merrion, in her turn, gave him an “Oh, these foreigners” look. 

“She was a nice, clean-looking girl,” she said distantly. 

“What time did she go off duty last night?” asked Crome. 

“Eight o’clock. We close at eight. We do not serve dinners. There is 
no demand for them. Scrambled eggs and tea [Poirot shuddered] pe 



48 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


pie come in for up to seven o’clock and sometimes after, but our rush is 
over by 6:30.” 

“Did she mention to you how she proposed to spend her evening?” 

“Certainly not,” said Miss Merrion emphatically. “We were not on 
those terms.” 

“No one came in and called for her? Anything like that?” 

“No.” 

“Did she seem quite her ordinary self? Not excited or depressed?” 

“Really I could not say,” said Miss Merrion aloofly. 

“How many waitresses do you employ?” 

‘Two normally, and an extra two after the 20th of July until the end 
of August.” 

“But Elizabeth Barnard was not one of the extras?” 

“Miss Barnard was one of the regulars.” 

“What about the other one?” 

“Miss Higley? She is a very nice young lady.” 

“Were she and Miss Barnard friends?” 

“Really I could not say.” 

“Perhaps we’d better have a word with her.” 

“Now?” 

“If you please.” 

“I will send her to you,” said Miss Merrion, rising. “Please keep her 
as short a time as possible. This is the morning coffee rush hour.” 

The feline and gingery Miss Merrion left the room. 

“Very refined,” remarked Inspector Kelsey. He mimicked the lady’s 
mincing tone. “ Really I could not say. ” 

A plump girl, slightly out of breath, with dark hair, rosy cheeks and 
dark eyes goggling with excitement, bounced in. 

“Miss Merrion sent me,” she announced breathlessly. 

“Miss Higley?” 

“Yes, that’s me.” 

“You knew Elizabeth Barnard?” 

“Oh, yes, I knew Betty. Isn’t it awful ? It’s just too awful! I can’t be- 
lieve it’s true. I’ve been saying to the girls all the morning I just can't 
believe it! ‘You know, girls,’ I said, ‘it just doesn’t seem real' Betty! I 
mean, Betty Barnard, who’s been here all along, murderedl ‘I just can’t 
believe it,’ I said. Five or six times I’ve pinched myself just to see if I 
wouldn’t wake up. Betty murdered . . . It’s — -well, you know what I 
mean — it doesn’t seem real.” 

“You knew the dead girl well?” asked Crome. 

“Well, she’s worked here longer than I have. I only came this March. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


49 


She was here last year. She was rather quiet, if you know what I mean. 
She wasn’t one to joke or laugh a lot. I don’t mean that she was exactly 
quiet — she’d plenty of fun in her and all that — but she didn’t — well, 
she was quiet and she wasn’t quiet, if you know what I mean.” 

I will say for Inspector Crome that he was exceedingly patient. As a 
witness the buxom Miss Higley was persistently maddening. Every 
statement she made was repeated and qualified half a dozen times. The 
net result was meagre in the extreme. 

She had not been on terms of intimacy with the dead girl. Elizabeth 
Barnard, it could be guessed, had considered herself a cut above Miss 
Higley. She had been friendly in working hours, but the girls had not 
seen much of her out of them. Elizabeth Barnard had had a “friend” — 
worked in the estate agents near the station. Court & Brunskill. No, he 
wasn’t Mr. Court nor Mr. Brunskill. He was a clerk there. She didn’t 
know his name. But she knew him by sight well. Good-looking — oh, 
very good-looking, and always so nicely dressed. Clearly, there was a 
tinge of jealousy in Miss Higley’s heart. 

In the end it boiled down to this. Elizabeth Barnard had not confided 
in any one in the cafe as to her plans for the evening, but in Miss 
Higley’s opinion she had been going to meet her “friend.” She had had 
on a new white dress, “ever so sweet with one of the new necks.” 

We had a word with each of the other two girls but with no further 
results. Betty Barnard had not said anything as to her plans and no one 
had noticed her in Bexhill during the course of the evening. 



X. The Barnards 


V 


Elizabeth Barnard’s parents lived in a minute bungalow, one of fifty or 
so recently run up by a speculative builder on the confines of the town. 
The name of it was Llandudno. 

Mr. Barnard, a stout, bewildered-looking man of fifty-five or so, had 
noticed our approach and was standing waiting in the doorway. 

“Come in, gentlemen,” he said. 

Inspector Kelsey took the initiative. 

“This is Inspector Crome of Scotland Yard, sir,” he said. “He’s 
come down to help us over this business.” 

“Scotland Yard?” said Mr. Barnard hopefully. “That’s good. This 
murdering villain’s got to be laid by the heels. My poor little girl — ” 
His face was distorted by a spasm of grief. 

“And this is Mr. Hercule Poirot, also from London, and er — ■” 

“Captain Hastings,” said Poirot. 

“Pleased to meet you, gentlemen,” said Mr. Barnard mechanically. 
“Come into the snuggery. I don’t know that my poor wife’s up to see- 
ing you. All broken up, she is.” 

However, by the time that we were ensconced in the living-room of 
the bungalow, Mrs. Barnard had made her appearance. She had evi- 
dently been crying bitterly, her eyes were reddened and she walked 
with the uncertain gait of a person who had had a great shock. 

“Why, Mother, that’s fine,” said Mr. Barnard. “You’re sure you’re 
all right — eh?” 


50 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


51 


He patted her shoulder and drew her down into a chair. 

“The superintendent was very kind,” said Mr. Barnard. “After he’d 
broken the news to us, he said he’d leave any questions till later when 
we’d got over the first shock.” 

“It is too cruel. Oh, it is too cruel,” cried Mrs. Barnard tearfully. 
“The crudest thing that ever was, it is.” 

Her voice had a faintly sing-song intonation that I thought for a mo- 
ment was foreign till I remembered the name on the gate and realized 
that the “effer wass” of her speech was in reality proof of her Welsh or- 
igin. 

“It’s very painful, madam, I know,” said Inspector Crome. “And 
we’ve every sympathy for you, but we want to know all the facts we 
can so as to get to work as quick as possible.” 

“That’s sense, that is,” said Mr. Barnard, nodding approval. 

“Your daughter was twenty-three, I understand. She lived here with 
you and worked at the Ginger Cat cafe, is that right?” 

“That’s it.” 

“This is a new place, isn’t it? Where did you live before?” 

“I was in the ironmongery business in Kennington. Retired two 
years ago. Always meant to live near the sea.” 

“You have two daughters?” 

“Yes. My elder daughter works in an office in London in the City.” 

“Weren’t you alarmed when your daughter didn’t come home last 
night?” 

“We didn’t know she hadn’t,” said Mrs. Barnard tearfully. “Dad and 
I always go to bed early. Nine o’clock’s our time. We never knew Betty 
hadn’t come home till the police officer came and said — and said — •” 

She broke down. 

“Was your daughter in the habit of — er — returning home late?” 

“You know what girls are nowadays, inspector,” said Barnard. “In- 
dependent, that’s what they are. These summer evenings they’re not 
going to rush home. All the same, Betty was usually in by eleven.” 

“How did she get in? Was the door open?” 

“Left the key under the mat — that’s what we always did.” 

“There is some rumour, I believe, that your daughter was engaged to 
be married?” 

“They don’t put it as formally as that nowadays,” said Mr. Barnard. 

“Donald Fraser his name is, and I liked him. I liked him very much,” 
said Mrs. Barnard. “Poor fellow, it’ll be terrible for him — this news. 
Does he know yet, I wonder?” 

“He works in Court & Brunskill’s, I understand?” 



52 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Yes, they’re the estate agents.” 

“Was he in the habit of meeting your daughter most evenings after 
her work?” 

“Not every evening. Once or twice a week would be nearer.” 

“Do you know if she was going to meet him yesterday?” 

“She didn’t say. Betty never said much about what she was doing or 
where she was going. But she was a good girl, Betty was. Oh, I can’t 
believe — •” 

Mrs. Barnard started sobbing again. 

“Pull yourself together, old lady. Try to hold up, Mother,” urged her 
husband. “We’ve got to get to the bottom of this. . . .” 

“I’m sure Donald would never — would never — ” sobbed Mrs. 
Barnard. 

“Now just you pull yourself together,” repeated Mr. Barnard. 

He turned to the two inspectors. 

“I wish to God I could give you some help — but the plain fact is I 
know nothing — nothing at all that can help you to the dastardly scoun- 
drel who did this. Betty was just a merry, happy girl — with a decent 
young fellow that she was — well, we’d have called it walking out with 
in my young days. Why any one should want to murder her simply 
beats me — it doesn’t make sense.” 

“You’re very near the truth there, Mr. Barnard,” said Crome. “I tell 
you what I’d like to do — have a look over Miss Barnard’s room. There 
may be something — letters — or a diary.” 

“Look over it and welcome,” said Mr. Barnard, rising. 

He led the way. Crome followed him, then Poirot, then Kelsey, and I 
brought up the rear. 

I stopped for a minute to retie my shoelace, and as I did so, a taxi 
drew up outside and a girl jumped out of it. She paid the driver and 
hurried up the path to the house, carrying a small suitcase. As she en- 
tered the door she saw me and stopped dead. 

There was something so arresting in her pose that it intrigued me. 

“Who are you?” she said. 

I came down a few steps. I felt embarrassed as to how exactly to re- 
ply. Should I give my name? Or mention that I had come here with the 
police? The girl, however, gave me no time to make a decision. 

“Oh, well,” she said, “I can guess.” 

She pulled off the little white woollen cap she was wearing and 
threw it on the ground. I could see her better now as she turned a little 
so that the light fell on her. 

My first impression was of the Dutch dolls that my sisters used to 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


53 


play with in my childhood. Her hair was black and cut in a straight bob 
and a bang across the forehead. Her cheekbones were high and her 
whole figure had a queer modem angularity that was not, somehow, 
unattractive. She was not good-looking — plain rather — but there was 
an intensity about her, a forcefulness that made her a person quite im- 
possible to overlook. 

“You are Miss Barnard?” I asked. 

“I am Megan Barnard. You belong to the police, I suppose.” 

“Well,” I said, “not exactly — ” 

She interrupted me. 

“I don’t think I’ve got anything to say to you. My sister was a nice 
bright girl with no men friends. Good-morning.” 

She gave a short laugh as she spoke and regarded me challengingly. 

“That’s the correct phrase, I believe?” she said. 

“I’m not a reporter, if that’s what you’re getting at.” 

“Well, what are you?” She looked round. “Where’s mum and dad?” 

“Your father is showing the police your sister’s bedroom. Your 
mother’s in there. She’s very upset.” 

The girl seemed to make a decision. 

“Come in here,” she said. 

She pulled open a door and passed through. I followed her and 
found myself in a small, neat kitchen. 

I was about to shut the door behind me — but found an unexpected 
resistance. The next moment Poirot had slipped quietly into the room 
and shut the door behind him. 

“Mademoiselle Barnard?” he said with a quick bow. 

‘This is M. Hercule Poirot,” I said. 

Megan Barnard gave him a quick, appraising glance. 

“I’ve heard of you,” she said. “You’re the fashionable private 
sleuth, aren’t you?” 

“Not a pretty description — but it suffices,” said Poirot. 

The girl sat down on the edge of the kitchen table. She felt in her bag 
for a cigarette. She placed it between her lips, lighted it, and then said 
in between two puffs of smoke: 

“Somehow, I don’t see what M. Hercule Poirot is doing in our hum- 
ble little crime.” 

“Mademoiselle,” said Poirot, “what you do not see and what I do 
not see would probably fill a volume. But all that is of no practical im- 
portance. What is of practical importance is something that will not be 
easy to find.” 

“What’s that?” 



54 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Death, mademoiselle, unfortunately creates a prejudice. A preju- 
dice in favour of the deceased. I heard what you said just now to my 
friend Hastings. ‘A nice bright girl with no men friends.’ You said that 
in mockery of the newspapers. And it is very true when a young girl 
is dead, that is the kind of thing that is said. She was bright. She was 
happy. She was sweet-tempered. She had not a care in the world. She 
had no undesirable acquaintances. There is a great charity always to 
the dead. Do you know what I should like this minute? I should like to 
find some one who knew Elizabeth Barnard and who does not know 
she is dead! Then, perhaps, I should hear what is useful to me— the 

truth.” . 

Megan Barnard looked at him for a few minutes in silence whilst 
she smoked. Then, at last, she spoke. Her words made me jump. 

“Betty,” she said, “was an unmitigated little ass!” 



XI. Megan Barnard 


V 


As I said, Megan Barnard’s words, and still more the crisp business- 
like tone in which they were uttered, made me jump. 

Poirot, however, merely bowed his head gravely. 

“A la bonne heure ” he said. “You are intelligent, mademoiselle.” 

Megan Barnard said, still in the same detached tone: 

“I was extremely fond of Betty. But my fondness didn’t blind me 
from seeing exactly the kind of silly little fool she was — and even tell- 
ing her so upon occasion! Sisters are like that.” 

“And did she pay any attention to your advice?” 

“Probably not,” said Megan cynically. 

“Will you, mademoiselle, be precise.” 

The girl hesitated for a minute or two. 

Poirot said with a slight smile: 

“I will help you. I heard what you said to Hastings. That your sister 
was a bright, happy girl with no men friends. It was — un pen — the op- 
posite that was true, was it not?” 

Megan said slowly: 

“There wasn’t any harm in Betty. I want you to understand that 
She’d always go straight. She’s not the week-ending kind. Nothing of 
that sort. But she liked being taken out and dancing and — oh, cheap 
flattery and compliments and all that sort of thing.” 

“And she was pretty — yes?” 


55 



56 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


This question, the third time I had heard it, met this time with a prac- 
tical response. 

Megan slipped off the table, went to her suitcase, snapped it open 
and extracted something which she handed to Poirot. 

In a leather frame was a head and shoulders of a fair-haired, smiling 
girl. Her hair had evidently recently been permed; it stood out from her 
head in a mass of rather frizzy curls. The smile was arch and artificial. 
It was certainly not a face that you could call beautiful, but it had an 
obvious and cheap prettiness. 

Poirot handed it back, saying: 

“You and she do not resemble each other, mademoiselle.” 

“Oh, I’m the plain one of the family. I've always known that.” She 
seemed to brush aside the fact as unimportant. 

“In what way exactly do you consider your sister was behaving 
foolishly? Do you mean, perhaps, in relation to Mr. Donald Fraser?” 

“That’s it, exactly. Don’s a very quiet sort of person — but he — well, 
naturally he’d resent certain things — and then — ■” 

“And then what, mademoiselle?” 

His eyes were on her very steadily. 

It may have been my fancy but it seemed to me that she hesitated a 
second before answering. 

“I was afraid that he might — chuck her altogether. And that would 
have been a pity. He’s a very steady and hard-working man and would 
have made her a good husband.” 

Poirot continued to gaze at her. She did not flush under his glance 
but returned it with one of her own equally steady and with something 
else in it — something that reminded me of her first defiant, disdainful 
manner. 

“So it is like that,” he said at last. “We do not speak the truth any 
longer.” 

She shrugged her shoulders and turned towards the door. 

“Well,” she said, “I’ve done what I could to help you.” 

Poirot’s voice arrested her. 

“Wait, mademoiselle. I have something to tell you. Come back.” 

Rather unwillingly, I thought, she obeyed. 

Somewhat to my surprise, Poirot plunged into the whole story of the 
A.B.C. letters, the murder at Andover, and the railway guide found by 
the bodies. 

He had no reason to complain of any lack of interest on her part. Her 
lips parted, her eyes gleaming, she hung on his words. 

“Is this all true, M. Poirot?” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


57 


“Yes, it is true.” 

“You really mean my sister was killed by some horrible homicidal 
maniac?” 

“Precisely.” 

She drew a deep breath. 

“Oh! Betty — Betty — How — how ghastly !” 

“You see, mademoiselle, that the information for which I ask you 
can give freely without wondering whether or not it will hurt any one.” 

“Yes, I see that now.” 

“Then let us continue our conversation. I have formed the idea that 
this Donald Fraser has, perhaps, a violent and jealous temper, is that 
right?” 

Megan Barnard said quietly: 

“I’m trusting you now, M. Poirot. I’m going to give you the absolute 
truth. Don is, as I say, a very quiet person — a bottled-up person if you 
know what I mean. He can’t always express what he feels in words. 
But underneath it all he minds things terribly. And he’s got a jealous 
nature. He was always jealous of Betty. He was devoted to her — and of 
course she was very fond of him, but it wasn’t in Betty to be fond of 
one person and not notice anybody else. She wasn’t made that way. 
She’d got a — well, an eye for any nice-looking man who’d pass the 
time of day with her. And of course, working in the Ginger Cat, she 
was always running up against men — especially in the summer holi- 
days. She was always very pat with her tongue and if they chaffed her 
she’d chaff back again. And then perhaps she’d meet them and go to 
the pictures or something like that. Nothing serious — never anything 
of that kind — but she just liked her fun. She used to say that as she’d 
got to settle down with Don one day she might as well have her fun 
now while she could.” 

Megan paused and Poirot said: 

“I understand. Continue.” 

“It was just that attitude of mind of hers that Don couldn’t under- 
stand. If she was really keen on him he couldn’t see why she wanted to 
go out with other people. And once or twice they had flaming big rows 
about it.” 

“M. Don, he was no longer quiet?” 

“It’s like all those quiet people, when they do lose their tempers they 
lose them with a vengeance. Don was so violent that Betty was fright- 
ened.” 

“When was this?” 

“There was one row nearly a year ago and another — a worse one— 



AGATHA CHRISTIE 


just over a month ago. I was home for the weekend — and I got them to 
patch it up again, and it was then that I tried to knock a little sense into 
Betty — told her she was a little fool. All she would say was that there 
hadn’t been any harm in it. Well, that was true enough, but all the same 
she was riding for a fall. You see, after the row a year ago, she’d got 
into the habit of telling a few useful lies on the principle that what the 
mind doesn’t know the heart doesn’t grieve over. This last flare-up 
came because she’d told Don she was going to Hastings to see a girl 
pal and he found out that she’d really been over to Eastbourne with 
some man. He was a married man, as it happened, and he’d been a bit 
secretive about the business anyway — and so that made it worse. They 
had an awful scene — Betty saying that she wasn’t married to him yet 
and she had a right to go about with whom she pleased and Don all 
white and shaking and saying that one day — one day — ” 

“Yes?” 

“He’d commit murder — ” said Megan in a lowered voice. 

She stopped and stared at Poirot. 

He nodded his head gravely several times. 

“And so, naturally, you were afraid . . 

“I didn’t think he’d actually done it — not for a minute! But 1 was 
afraid it might be brought up — the quarrel and all that he’d said — 
several people knew about it.” 

Again Poirot nodded his head gravely. 

“Just so. And I may say, mademoiselle, that but for the egotistical 
vanity of a killer, that is just what would have happened. If Donald Fra- 
ser escapes suspicion, it will be thanks to A.B.C.’s maniacal boasting.” 

He was silent for a minute or two, then he said: 

“Do you know if your sister met this married man, or any other man, 
lately?” 

Megan shook her head. 

“I don’t know. I’ve been away, you see.” 

“But what do you think?” 

“She mayn’t have met that particular man again. He’d probably 
sheer off if he thought there was a chance of a row, but it wouldn’t sur- 
prise me if Betty had — well, been telling Don a few lies again. You 
see, she did so enjoy dancing and the pictures, and of course, Don 
couldn’t afford to take her all the time.” 

“If so, is she likely to have confided in any one? The girl at the caf£, 
for instance?” 

“I don’t think that’s likely. Betty couldn’t bear the Higley girl. She 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


59 


thought her common. And the others would be new. Betty wasn’t the 
confiding sort anyway.” 

An electric bell trilled sharply above the girl’s head. 

She went to the window and leaned out. She drew back her head 
sharply. 

“It’s Don. . . .” 

“Bring him in here,” said Poirot quickly. “I would like a word with 
him before our good inspector takes him in hand.” 

Like a flash Megan Barnard was out of the kitchen, and a couple of 
seconds later she was back again leading Donald Fraser by the hand. 



XII. Donald Fraser 


V 


I felt sorry at once for the young man. His white haggard face and be- 
wildered eyes showed how great a shock he had had. 

He was a well-made, fine-looking young fellow, standing close on 
six foot, not good-looking, but with a pleasant, freckled face, high 
cheekbones and flaming red hair. 

“What’s this, Megan?” he said. “Why in here? For God’s sake, tell 
me — I’ve only just heard — Betty . . 

His voice trailed away. 

Poirot pushed forward a chair and he sank down on it. 

My friend then extracted a small flask from his pocket, poured some 
of its contents into a convenient cup which was hanging on the dresser 
and said: 

“Drink some of this, Mr. Fraser. It will do you good.” 

The young man obeyed. The brandy brought a little colour back into 
his face. He sat up straighter and turned once more to the girl. His man- 
ner was quite quiet and self-controlled. 

“It’s true, I suppose?” he said. “Betty is — dead — killed?” 

“It’s true, Don.” 

He said as though mechanically: 

“Have you just come down from London?” 

“Yes. Dad phoned me.” 

“By the 9:20, 1 suppose?” said Donald Fraser. 

60 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


61 


His mind, shrinking from reality, ran for safety along these unim- 
portant details. 

“Yes.” 

There was silence for a minute or two, then Fraser said: 

“The police? Are they doing anything?” 

“They’re upstairs now. Looking through Betty’s things, I suppose.” 

“They’ve no idea who — ? They don’t know — ?” 

He stopped. 

He had all a sensitive, shy person’s dislike of putting violent facts 
into words. 

Poirot moved forward a little and asked a question. He spoke in a 
business-like, matter-of-fact voice as though what he asked was an un- 
important detail. 

“Did Miss Barnard tell you where she was going last night?” 

Fraser replied to the question. He seemed to be speaking mechani- 
cally. 

“She told me she was going with a girl friend to St. Leonards.” 

“Did you believe her?” 

“I — •” Suddenly the automaton came to life. “What the devil do you 
mean?” 

His face then, menacing, convulsed by sudden passion, made me 
understand that a girl might well be afraid of rousing his anger. 

Poirot said crisply: 

“Betty Barnard was killed by a homicidal murderer. Only by speak- 
ing the exact truth can you help us to get on his track.” 

His glance for a minute turned to Megan. 

“That’s right, Don,” she said. “It isn’t a time for considering one’s 
own feelings or any one else’s. You’ve got to come clean.” 

Donald Fraser looked suspiciously at Poirot. 

“Who are you? You don’t belong to the police?” 

“I am better than the police,” said Poirot. He said it without con- 
scious arrogance. It was, to him, a simple statement of fact. 

‘Tell him,” said Megan. 

Donald Fraser capitulated. 

“I — wasn’t sure,” he said. “I believed her when she said it. Never 
thought of doing anything else. Afterwards — perhaps it was something 
in her manner. I — I, well, I began to wonder.” 

“Yes?” said Poirot. 

He had sat down opposite Donald Fraser. His eyes, fixed on the 
other man’s, seemed to be exercising a mesmeric spell. 

“I was ashamed of myself for being so suspicious. But — but I was 



62 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


suspicious ... I thought of going down to the front and watching her 
when she left the cafe. I actually went there. Then I felt I couldn’t do 
that. Betty would see me and she’d be angry. She’d realize at once that 
I was watching her.” 

“What did you do?” 

U I went over to St. Leonards. Got over there by eight o’clock. Then 
I watched the buses — to see if she were in them. . . . But there was no 
sign of her. . . .” 

“And then?” 

“I — I lost my head rather. I was convinced she was with some man. 
I thought it probable he had taken her in his car to Hastings. I went on 
there — looked in hotels and restaurants, hung round cinemas — went 
on the pier. Ail damn foolishness. Even if she was there I was unlikely 
to find her, and anyway, there were heaps of other places he might have 
taken her to instead of Hastings.” 

He stopped. Precise as his tone had remained, I caught an undertone 
of that blind, bewildering misery and anger that had possessed him at 
the time he described. 

“In the end I gave it up — came back.” 

“At what time?” 

“I don’t know. I walked. It must have been midnight or after when I 
got home ” 

“Then—” 

The kitchen door opened. 

“Oh, there you are,” said Inspector Kelsey. 

Inspector Crome pushed past him, shot a glance at Poirot and a 
glance at the two strangers. 

“Miss Megan Barnard and Mr. Donald Fraser,” said Poirot, intro- 
ducing them. 

“This is Inspector Crome from London,” he explained. 

Turning to the inspector, he said: 

“While you pursued your investigations upstairs I have been con- 
versing with Miss Barnard and Mr. Fraser, endeavouring if I could to 
find something that will throw light upon the matter.” 

“Oh, yes?” said Inspector Crome, his thoughts not upon Poirot but 
upon the two new-comers. 

Poirot retreated to the hall. Inspector Kelsey said kindly as he 
passed: 

“Get anything?” 

But his attention was distracted by his colleague and he did not wait 
for a reply. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


63 


I joined Poirot in the hall. 

“Did anything strike you, Poirot?” I inquired. 

“Only the amazing magnanimity of the murderer, Hastings.” 

I had not the courage to say that I had not the least idea what he 
meant. 



XIII. A Conference 


V 


Conferences! 

Much of my memories of the A.B.C. case seem to be of confer- 
ences. 

Conferences at Scotland Yard. At Poirot’s rooms. Official con- 
ferences. Unofficial conferences. 

This particular conference was to decide whether or not the facts 
relative to the anonymous letters should or should not be made public 
in the press. 

The Bexhill murder had attracted much more attention than the An- 
dover one. 

' It had, of course, far more elements of popularity. The victim was a 
young and good-looking girl to begin with. Also, it had taken place at a 
popular seaside resort. 

All the details of the crime were reported fully and rehashed daily in 
thin disguises. The A.B.C. railway guide came in for its share of atten- 
tion. The favourite theory was that it had been bought locally by the 
murderer and that it was a valuable clue to his identity. It also seemed 
to show that he had come to the place by train and was intending to 
leave for London. 

The railway guide had not figured at all in the meagre accounts of 
the Andover murder so there seemed at present little likelihood of the 
two crimes being connected in the public eye. 

“We’ve got to decide upon a policy,” said the Assistant Commis- 

64 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


65 


sioner. “The thing is — which way will give us the best results? Shall 
we give the public the facts — enlist their co-operation — after all, it’ll 
be the co-operation of several million people, looking out for a 
madman — ” 

“He won’t look like a madman,” interjected Dr. Thompson. 

“ — looking out for sales of A.B.C. ’s — and so on. Against that I sup- 
pose there’s the advantage of working in the dark — not letting our man 
know what we’re up to, but then there’s the fact that he knows very well 
that we know . He’s drawn attention to himself deliberately by his let- 
ters. Eh, Crome, what’s your opinion?” 

“I look at it this way, sir. If you make it public, you're playing 
A.B.C.'s game. That’s what he wants — publicity — notoriety. That’s 
what he’s out after. I’m right, aren’t I, doctor? He wants to make a 
splash.” 

Thompson nodded. 

The Assistant Commissioner said thoughtfully: 

“So you’re for baulking him. Refusing him the publicity he’s han- 
kering after. What about you, M. Poirot?” 

Poirot did not speak for a minute. When he did it was with an air of 
choosing his words carefully. 

“It is difficult for me. Sir Lionel,” he said. “I am, as you might say, 
an interested party. The challenge was sent to me. If I say, ‘Suppress 
that fact — do not make it public,’ may it not be thought that it is my 
vanity that speaks? That I am afraid for my reputation? It is difficult! 
To speak out — to tell all — that has its advantages. It is, at least, a warn- 
ing On the other hand, I am as convinced as Inspector Crome that 

it is what the murderer wants us to do” 

“H’m!” said the Assistant Commissioner, rubbing his chin. He 
looked across at Dr. Thompson. “Suppose we refuse our lunatic the 
satisfaction of the publicity he craves. What’s he likely to do?” 

“Commit another crime,” said the doctor promptly. “Force your 
hand.” 

“And if we splash the thing about in headlines. Then what’s his re- 
action?” 

“Same answer. One way you feed his megalomania, the other you 
baulk it. The result’s the same. Another crime.” 

“What do you say, M. Poirot?” 

“I agree with Dr. Thompson.” 

“A cleft stick — eh? How many crimes do you think this — lunatic 
has in mind?” 

Dr. Thompson looked across at Poirot. 



66 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Looks like A to Z,” he said cheerfully. 

“Of course,” he went on, “he won’t get there. Not nearly. You’ll 
have him by the heels long before that. Interesting to know how he’d 
have dealt with the letter X.” He recalled himself guiltily from this 
purely enjoyable speculation. “But you’ll have him long before that. G 
or H, let’s say.” 

The Assistant Commissioner struck the table with his fist. 

“My God, are you telling me we’re going to have five more mur- 
ders?” 

“It won’t be as much as that, sir,” said Inspector Crome. “Trust me.” 

He spoke with confidence. 

“Which letter of the alphabet do you place it at, inspector?” asked 
Poirot. 

There was a slight ironic note in his voice. Crome, I thought, looked 
at him with a tinge of dislike adulterating the usual calm superiority. 

“Might get him next time, M. Poirot. At any rate I’d guarantee to get 
him by the time he gets to F.” 

He turned to the Assistant Commissioner. 

“I think I’ve got the psychology of the case fairly clear. Dr. Thomp- 
son will correct me if I’m wrong. I take it that every time he brings a 
crime off, his self-confidence increases about a hundred per cent. Ev- 
ery time he feels T’m clever — they can’t catch me!’ he becomes so 
overweeningly confident that he also becomes careless. He exagger- 
ates his own cleverness and every one else’s stupidity. Very soon he’ll 
be hardly bothering to take any precautions at all. That’s right, isn’t it, 
doctor?” 

Thompson nodded. 

“That’s usually the case. In non-medical terms it couldn’t have been 
put better. You know something about such things, M. Poirot. Don’t 
you agree?” 

I don’t think that Crome liked Thompson’s appeal to Poirot. He con- 
sidered that he and he only was the expert on this subject. 

“It is as Inspector Crome says,” agreed Poirot. 

“Paranoia,” murmured the doctor. 

Poirot turned to Crome. 

“Are there any material facts of interest in the Bexhill case?” 

“Nothing very definite. A waiter at the Splendide at Eastbourne rec- 
ognizes the dead girl’s photograph as that of a young woman who 
dined there in company with a middle-aged man in spectacles. It’s also 
been recognized at a roadhouse place called the Scarlet Runner, half- 
way between Bexhill and London. There they say she was with a man 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


67 


who looked like a naval officer. They can’t both be right, but either of 
them’s probable. Of course, there’s a host of other identifications, but 
most of them not good for much. We haven’t been able to trace the 
A.B.C.” 

“Well, you seem to be doing all that can be done, Crome,” said the 
Assistant Commissioner. “What do you say, M. Poirot? Does any line 
of inquiry ^suggest itself to you?” 

Poirot said slowly: 

“It seems to me that there is one very important clue — the discovery 
of the motive.” 

“Isn’t that pretty obvious? An alphabetical complex. Isn’t that what 
you called it, doctor?” 

“£a, oui, ” said Poirot. “There is an alphabetical complex. A mad- 
man in particular has always a very strong reason for the crimes he 
commits.” 

“Come, come, M. Poirot,” said Crome. “Look at Stoneman in 1929. 
He ended by trying to do away with any one who annoyed him in the 
slightest degree.” 

Poirot turned to him. 

“Quite so. But if you are a sufficiently great and important person, it 
is necessary that you should be spared small annoyances. If a fly settles 
on your forehead again and again, maddening you by its tickling — 
what do you do? You endeavour to kill that fly. You have no qualms 
about it. You are important — the fly is not. You kill the fly and the an- 
noyance ceases. Your action appears to you sane and justifiable. An- 
other reason for killing a fly is if you have a strong passion for hygiene. 
The fly is a potential source of danger to the community — the fly must 
go. So works the mind of the mentally deranged criminal. But consider 
now this case — if the victims are alphabetically selected , then they are 
not being removed because they are a source of annoyance to him per- 
sonally. It would be too much of a coincidence to combine the two.” 

“That’s a point,” said Dr. Thompson. “I remember a case where a 
woman’s husband was condemned to death. She started killing the 
members of the jury one by one. Quite a time before the crimes were 
connected up. They seemed entirely haphazard. But as M. Poirot says, 
there isn’t such a thing as a murderer who commits crimes at random. 
Either he removes people who stand (however insignificantly) in his 
path, or else he kills by conviction. He removes clergymen, or police- 
men, or prostitutes because he firmly believes that they should be re- 
moved. That doesn’t apply here either as far as I can see. Mrs. Ascher 
and Betty Barnard cannot be linked as members of the same class. Of 



68 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


course, it’s possible that there is a sex complex. Both victims have 
been women. We can tell better, of course, after the next crime — ■” 

“For God’s sake, Thompson, don’t speak so glibly of the next 
crime,” said Sir Lionel irritably. “We’re going to do all we can to pre- 
vent another crime.” 

Dr. Thompson held his peace and blew his nose with some violence. 

“Have it your own way,” the noise seemed to say. “If you won’t face 
facts — ” 

The Assistant Commissioner turned to Poirot. 

“I see what you’re driving at, but I’m not quite clear yet.” 

“I ask myself,” said Poirot, “what passes in itself exactly in the 
mind of the murderer? He kills, it would seem from his letters, pour le 
sport — to amuse himself. Can that really be true? And even if it is true, 
on what principle does he select his victims apart from the merely al- 
phabetical one ? If he kills merely to amuse himself he would not ad- 
vertise the fact, since, otherwise, he could kill with impunity. But no, 
he seeks, as we all agree, to make the splash in the public eye — to as- 
sert his personality. In what way has his personality been suppressed 
that one can connect with the two victims he has so far selected? A fi- 
nal suggestion — Is his motive direct personal hatred of me , of Hercule 
Poirot? Does he challenge me in public because I have (unknown to 
myself) vanquished him somewhere in the course of my career? Or is 
his animosity impersonal — directed against a foreigner? And if so, 
what again has led to that? What injury has he suffered at a foreigner’s 
hand?” 

“All very suggestive questions,” said Dr. Thompson. 

Inspector Crome cleared his throat. 

“Oh, yes? A little unanswerable at present, perhaps.” 

“Nevertheless, my friend,” said Poirot, looking straight at him, “ir is 
there in those questions that the solution lies . If we knew the exact 
reason — fantastic, perhaps, to us — but logical to him — of why our 
madman commits these crimes, we should know, perhaps, who the 
next victim is likely to be.” 

Crome shook his head. 

“He selects them haphazard — that’s my opinion.” 

“The magnanimous murderer,” said Poirot. 

“What’s that you say?” 

“I said — the magnanimous murderer! Franz Ascher would have been 
arrested for the murder of his wife — Donald Fraser might have been ar- 
rested for the murder of Betty Barnard — if it had not been for the warn- 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


69 


ing letters of A.B.C. Is he, then, so soft-hearted that he cannot bear 
others to suffer for something they did not do?” 

“I’ve known stranger things happen,” said Dr. Thompson. “I’ve 
known men who’ve killed half a dozen victims all broken up because 
one of their victims didn’t die instantaneously and suffered pain. All 
the same, I don’t think that that is our fellow’s reason. He wants the 
credit of these crimes for his own honour and glory. That’s the expla- 
nation that fits best.” 

“We’ve come to no decision about the publicity business,” said the 
Assistant Commissioner. 

“If I may make a suggestion, sir,” said Crome. “Why not wait till the 
receipt of die next letter? Make it public then — special editions, etc. It 
will make a bit of a panic in the particular town named, but it will put 
every one whose name begins with C on his guard, and it’ll put A.B.C. 
on his mettle. He’ll be determined to succeed. And that’s when we’ll 
get him.” 

How little we knew what the future held. 



XIV. The Third Letter 


V 


I well remember the arrival of A.B.C.’s third letter. 

I may say that all precautions had been taken so that when A.B.C. 
resumed his campaign there should be no unnecessary delays. A young 
sergeant from Scotland Yard was attached to the house and if Poirot 
and I were out it was his duty to open anything that came so as to be 
able to communicate with headquarters without loss of time. 

As the days succeeded each other we had all grown more and more 
on edge. Inspector Crome’s aloof and superior manner grew more and 
more aloof and superior as one by one his more hopeful clues petered 
out. The vague descriptions of men said to have been seen with Betty 
Barnard proved useless. Various cars noticed in the vicinity of Bexhill 
and Cooden were either accounted for or could not be traced. The in- 
vestigation of purchases of A.B.C. railway guides caused inconven- 
ience and trouble to heaps of innocent people. 

As for ourselves, each time the postman’s familiar rat-tat sounded 
on the door, our hearts beat faster with apprehension. At least that was 
true for me, and I Cannot but believe that Poirot experienced the same 
sensation. 

He was, I knew, deeply unhappy over the case. He refused to leave 
London, preferring to be on the spot in case of emergency. In those hot 
dog days even his moustaches drooped — neglected for once by their 
owner. 


70 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


71 


It was on a Friday that A.B.C.’s third letter came. The evening post 
arrived about ten o’clock. 

When we heard the familiar step and the brisk rat-tat, I rose and 
went along to the box. There were four or five letters, I remember. The 
last one I looked at was addressed in printed characters. 

“Poirot,” I cried My voice died away. 

“It has come? Open it, Hastings. Quickly. Every moment may be 
needed. We must make our plans.” 

I tore open the letter (Poirot for once did not reproach me for untidi- 
ness) and extracted the printed sheet. 

“Read it,” said Poirot. 

I read aloud: 


Poor Mr. Poirot — Not so good at these little criminal matters as 

you thought yourself, are you? Rather past your prime, perhaps? Let 

us see if you can do any better this time. This time it*s an easy one . 

Churston on the 30th. Do try and do something about it! It's a bit 

dull having it all my own way, you know ! 

Good hunting. Ever yours, 
A.B.C. 

“Churston,” I said, jumping to our own copy of an A.B.C. “Let’s see 
where it is.” 

“Hastings,” Poirot’s voice came sharply and interrupted me. “When 
was that letter written? Is there a date on it?” 

I glanced at the letter in my hand. 

“Written on the 27th,” I announced. 

“Did I hear you aright, Hastings? Did he give the date of the murder 
as the 30thT 

“That’s right. Let me see, that’s — ” 

“ Bon Dieu, Hastings — do you not realize? To-day is the 30th.” 

His eloquent hand pointed to the calendar on the wall. I caught up 
the daily paper to confirm it. 

“But why — how — ” I stammered. 

Poirot caught up the tom envelope from the floor. Something un- 
usual about the address had registered itself vaguely in my brain, but I 
had been too anxious to get at the contents of the letter to pay more 
than fleeting attention to it, 

Poirot was at the time living in Whitehaven Mansions. The address 
ran: M. Hercule Poirot, Whitehorse Mansions. Across the comer was 



72 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


scrawled: “Not known at Whitehorse Mansions ; E.C.l, nor at White - 
Ziorse Court — try Whitehaven Mansions . ” 

“Afon Dieu!” murmured Poirot. “Does even chance aid this mad- 
man? Vite — vite — we must get on to Scotland Yard.” 

A minute or two later we were speaking to Crome over the wire. For 
once the self-controlled inspector did not reply “Oh, yes?” Instead a 
quickly stifled curse came to his lips. He heard what we had to say, 
then rang off in order to get a trunk connection to Churston as rapidly 
as possible. 

“C’esttrop tard, ” murmured Poirot. 

“You can’t be sure of that,” I argued, though without any great hope. 

He glanced at the clock. 

‘Twenty minutes past ten? An hour and forty minutes to go. Is it 
likely that A.B.C. will have held his hand so long?” 

I opened the railway guide I had previously taken from its shelf. 

“Churston, Devon,” I read, “from Paddington 204-14 miles. Popula- 
tion 544. It sounds a fairly small place. Surely our man will be bound 
to be noticed there.” 

“Even so, another life will have been taken,” murmured Poirot. 
“What are the trains? I imagine train will be quicker than car.” 

“There’s a midnight train — sleeping-car to Newton Abbot — gets 
there 6:08 a.m., and to Churston at 7: 15.” 

“That is from Paddington?” 

“Paddington, yes.” 

“We will take that, Hastings.” 

“You’ll hardly have time to get news before we start.” 

“If we receive bad news to-night or to-morrow morning, does it 
matter which?” 

“There’s something in that.” 

I put a few things together in a suitcase whilst Poirot once more rang 
up Scotland Yard. 

A few minutes later he came into the bedroom and demanded: 

“Mais qu* est-ce que vousfaites la?” 

“I was packing for you. I thought it would save time.” 

“Vous eprouvez trop d’ emotion, Hastings . It affects your hands and 
your wits. Is that a way to fold a coat? And regard what you have done 
to my pyjamas. If the hairwash breaks what will befall them?” 

“Good heavens, Poirot,” I cried, “this is a matter of life and death. 
What does it matter what happens to our clothes?” 

“You have no sense of proportion, Hastings. We cannot catch a train 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


73 


earlier than the time that it leaves, and to ruin one’s clothes will not be 
the least helpful in preventing a murder.” 

Taking his suitcase from me firmly, he took the packing into his own 
hands. 

He explained that we were to take the letter and envelope to 
Paddington with us. Some one from Scotland Yard would meet us 
there. 

When we arrived on the platform the first person we saw was In- 
spector Crome. 

He answered Poirot’s look of inquiry. 

“No news as yet. All men available are on the lookout. All persons 
whose name begins with C are being warned by phone when possible. 
There’s just a chance. Where’s the letter?” 

Poirot gave it to him. 

He examined it, swearing softly under his breath. 

“Of all the damned luck. The stars in their courses fight for the fel- 
low.” 

“You don’t think I suggested, “that it was done on purpose?” 

Crome shook his head. 

“No. He’s got his rules — crazy rules — and abides by them. Fair 
warning. He makes a point of that. That’s where his boastfulness 
comes in. I wonder now — Fd almost bet the chap drinks White Horse 
whisky.” 

“Ah, c’est ingenieux ga !” said Poirot, driven to admiration in spite 
of himself. “He prints the letter and the bottle is in front of him.” 

“That’s the way of it,” said Crome. “We’ve all of us done much the 
same thing one time or another: unconsciously copied something that’s 
just under the eye. He started off White and went on horse instead of 
haven. . . .” 

The inspector, we found, was also travelling by the train. 

“Even if by some unbelievable luck nothing happened, Churston is 
the place to be. Our murderer is there, or has been there today. One of 
my men is on the phone here up to the last minute in case anything 
comes through.” 

Just as the train was leaving the station we saw a man running down 
the platform. He reached the inspector’s window and called up some- 
thing. 

As the train drew out of the station Poirot and I hurried along the 
corridor and tapped on the door of the inspector’s sleeper. 

“You have news — yes?” demanded Poirot. 

Crome said quietly: 



74 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“It’s about as bad as it can be. Sir Carmichael Clarke has been found 
with his head bashed in.” 

Sir Carmichael Clarke, although his name was not very well known 
to the general public, was a man of some eminence. He had been in his 
time a very well-known throat specialist. Retiring from his profession 
very comfortably off, he had been able to indulge what had been one of 
the chief passions of his life — a collection of Chinese pottery and por- 
celain. A few years later, inheriting a considerable fortune from an el- 
derly uncle, he had been able to indulge his passion to the full, and he 
was now the possessor of one of the best known collections of Chinese 
art. He was married but had no children, and lived in a house he had 
built for himself near the Devon coast, only coming to London on rare 
occasions such as when some important sale was on. 

It did not require much reflection to realize that his death, following 
that of the young and pretty Betty Barnard, would provide the best 
newspaper sensation in years. The fact that it was August and that the 
papers were hard up for subject matter would make matters worse. 

“Eh bien, ” said Poirot. “It is possible that publicity may do what 
private efforts have failed to do. The whole country now will be look- 
ing for A.B.C.” 

“Unfortunately,” I said, “that’s what he wants.” 

‘True. But it may, all the same, be his undoing. Gratified by success, 
he may become careless. . . . That is what I hope — that he may be 
drunk with his own cleverness.” 

“How odd all this is, Poirot,” I exclaimed, struck suddenly by an 
idea. “Do you know, this is the first crime of this kind that you and I 
have worked on together? All our murders have been — well, private 
murders, so to speak.” 

“You are quite right, my friend. Always, up to now, it has fallen our 
lot to work from the inside. It has been the history of the victim that 
was important. The important points have been: ‘Who benefited by the 
death? What opportunities had those round him to commit the crime?’ 
It has always been the ‘ crime intime .’ Here, for the first time in our as- 
sociation, it is cold-blooded, impersonal murder. Murder from the out- 
side” 

I shivered. 

“It’s rather horrible ” 

“Yes. I felt from the first, when I read the original letter, that there 
was something wrong — misshapen ” 

He made an impatient gesture. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


75 


“One must not give way to the nerves. . . . This is no worse than any 
ordinary crime . ...” 

“It is It is ” 

“Is it worse to take the life or lives of strangers than to take the life 
of some one near and dear to you — some one who trusts and believes 
in you, perhaps?” 

“It’s worse because it’s mad . . . ” 

“No, Hastings. It is not worse. It is only more difficult 

“No, no, I do not agree with you. It’s infinitely more frightening.” 

Hercuie Poirot said thoughtfully: 

“It should be easier to discover because it is mad. A crime commit- 
ted by some one shrewd and sane would be far more complicated. 
Here, if one could but hit on the idea . . . This alphabetical business, it 
has discrepancies. If I could once see the idea — then everything would 
be clear and simple. . . .” 

He sighed and shook his head. 

‘These crimes must not go on. Soon, soon, I must see the truth 

Go, Hastings. Get some sleep. There will be much to do to-morrow.” 



XV. Sir Carmichael Clarke 


V 


Churston, lying as it does between Brixham on the one side and 
Paignton and Torquay on the other, occupies a position about half-way 
round the curve of Torbay. Until about ten years ago it was merely a 
golf links and below the links a green sweep of countryside dropping 
down to the sea with only a farmhouse or two in the way of human oc- 
cupation. But of late years there have been big building developments 
between Churston and Paignton and the coastline is now dotted with 
small houses and bungalows, new roads, etc. 

Sir Carmichael Clarke had purchased a site of some two acres com- 
manding an uninterrupted view of the sea. The house he had built was 
of modem design — a white rectangle that was not unpleasing to the 
eye. Apart from two big galleries that housed his collection it was not a 
large house. 

Our arrival there took place about 8 a.m. A local police officer had 
met us at the station and had put us au courant of the situation. 

Sir Carmichael Clarke, it seemed, had been in the habit of taking a 
stroll after dinner every evening. When the police rang up — at some 
time after eleven — it was ascertained that he had not returned. Since 
his stroll usually followed the same course, it was not long before a 
search-party discovered his body. Death was due to a crashing blow 
with some heavy instrument on the back of the head. An open A.B.C. 
had been placed face downwards on the dead body. 

We arrived at Combeside (as the house was called) at about eight 

76 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


77 


o’clock. The door was opened by an elderly butler whose shaking 
hands and disturbed face showed how much the tragedy had affected 
him. 

“Good-morning, Deveril,” said the local police officer. 

“Good-morning, Mr. Wells.” 

“These are the gentlemen from London, Deveril.” 

“This way, sir.” He ushered us into a long dining-room where break- 
fast was laid. “I’ll get Mr. Franklin, sir.” 

A minute or two later a big fair-haired man with a sunburnt face en- 
tered the room. 

This was Franklin Clarke, the dead man’s only brother. 

He had the resolute competent manner of a man accustomed to 
meeting with emergencies. 

“Good-morning, gentlemen.” 

Inspector Wells made the introductions. 

“This is Inspector Crome of the C.I.D., Mr. Hercule Poirot and — 
er — Captain Hayter.” 

“Hastings,” I corrected coldly. 

Franklin Clarke shook hands with each of us in turn and in each case 
the handshake was accompanied by a piercing look. 

“Let me offer you some breakfast,” he said. “We can discuss the po- 
sition as we eat.” 

There were no dissentient voices and we were soon doing justice to 
excellent eggs and bacon and coffee. 

“Now for it,” said Franklin Clarke. “Inspector Wells gave me a 
rough idea of the position last night — though I may say it seemed one 
of the wildest tales I have ever heard. Am I really to believe. Inspector 
Crome, that my poor brother is the victim of a homicidal maniac, that 
this is the third murder that has occurred and that in each case an 
A.B.C . railway guide has been deposited beside the body ? ” 

“That is substantially the position, Mr. Clarke.” 

“But why ? What earthly benefit can accrue from such a crime — 
even in the most diseased imagination?” 

Poirot nodded his head in approval. 

“You go straight to the point, Mr. Clarke,” he said. 

“It’s not much good looking for motives at this stage, Mr. Clarke,” 
said Inspector Crome. “That’s a matter for an alienist — though I may 
say that I’ve had a certain experience of criminal lunacy and that the 
motives are usually grossly inadequate. There is a desire to assert one’s 
personality, to make a splash in the public eye — in fact, to be a some- 
body instead of a nonentity.” 



78 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Is that true, M. Poirot?” 

Clarke seemed incredulous. His appeal to the older man was not too 
well received by Inspector Crome, who frowned. 

“Absolutely true,” replied my friend. 

“At any rate such a man cannot escape detection long,” said Clarke 
thoughtfully. 

“Vo us croyez? Ah, but they are cunning — ces gens la! And you must 
remember such a type has usually all the outer signs of 
insignificance — he belongs to the class of person who is usually 
passed over and ignored or even laughed at!” 

“Will you let me have a few facts, please, Mr. Clarke,” said Crome, 
breaking in on the conversation. 

“Certainly.” 

“Your brother, I take it, was in his usual health and spirits yesterday? 
He received no unexpected letters? Nothing to upset him?” 

“No. I should say he was quite his usual self.” 

“Not upset and worried in any way?” 

“Excuse me, inspector. I didn’t say that. To be upset and worried 
was my poor brother’s normal condition.” 

“Why was that?” 

“You may not know that my sister-in-law, Lady Clarke, is in very 
bad health. Frankly, between ourselves, she is suffering from an incur- 
able cancer, and cannot live very much longer. Her illness has preyed 
terribly on my brother’s mind. I myself returned from the East not long 
ago and I was shocked at the change in him.” 

Poirot interpolated a question. 

“Supposing, Mr. Clarke, that your brother had been found shot at 
the foot of a cliff — or shot with a revolver beside him. What would 
have been your first thought?” 

“Quite frankly, I should have jumped to the conclusion that it was 
suicide,” said Clarke. 

“Encore!” said Poirot. 

“What is that?” 

“A fact that repeats itself. It is of no matter.” 

“Anyway, it wasn't suicide,” said Crome with a touch of curtness. 
“Now I believe, Mr. Clarke, that it was your brother’s habit to go for a 
stroll every evening?” 

“Quite right. He always did.” 

“Every night?” 

“Well, not if it was pouring with rain, naturally.” 

“And every one in the house knew of this habit?” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


79 


“Of course.” 

“And outside?” 

“I don’t quite know what you mean by outside. The gardener may 
have been aware of it or not, I don’t know.” 

“And in the village?” 

“Strictly speaking, we haven’t got a village. There’s a post office 
and cottages at Churston Ferrers — but there’s no village or shops.” 

“I suppose a stranger hanging round the place would be fairly easily 
noticed?” 

“On the contrary. In August all this part of the world is a seething 
mass of strangers. They come over every day from Brixham and 
Torquay and Paignton in cars and buses and on foot. Broadsands, 
which is down there [he pointed], is a very popular beach and so is 
Elbury Cove — it’s a well-known beauty spot and people come there 
and picnic. I wish they didn’t! You’ve no idea how beautiful and 
peaceful this part of the world is in June and the beginning of July.” 

“So you don’t think a stranger would be noticed?” 

“Not unless he looked — well, off his head.” 

“This man doesn’t look off his head,” said Crome with certainty. 
“You see what I’m getting at, Mr. Clarke. This man must have been 
spying out the land beforehand and discovered your brother’s habit of 
taking an evening stroll. I suppose, by the way, that no strange man 
came up to the house and asked to see Sir Carmichael yesterday?” 

“Not that I know of — but we’ll ask Deveril.” 

He rang the bell and put the question to the butler. 

“No, sir, no one came to see Sir Carmichael. And I didn’t notice any 
one hanging about the house either. No more did the maids, because 
I’ve asked them.” 

The butler waited a moment, then inquired: “Is that all, sir?” 

“Yes, Deveril, you can go.” 

The butler withdrew, drawing back in the doorway to let a young 
woman pass. 

Franklin Clarke rose as she came. 

“This is Miss Grey, gentlemen. My brother’s secretary.” 

My attention was caught at once by the girl’s extraordinary Scandi- 
navian fairness. She had the almost colourless ash hair — light grey 
eyes — and transparent glowing pallor that one finds amongst Norwe- 
gians and Swedes. She looked about twenty-seven and seemed to be as 
efficient as she was decorative. 

“Can I help you in any way?” she asked as she sat down. 

Clarke brought her a cup of coffee, but she refused any food. 



80 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Did you deal with Sir Carmichael’s correspondence?” asked 
Crome. 

“Yes, all of it” 

“I suppose he never received a letter or letters signed A.B.C.?” 

“A.B.C.?” She shook her head. “No, Pm sure he didn’t.” 

“He didn’t mention having seen any one hanging about during his 
evening walks lately?” 

“No. He never mentioned anything of the kind.” 

“And you yourself have noticed no strangers?” 

“Not exactly hanging about. Of course, there are a lot of people 
what you might call wandering, about at this time of year. One often 
meets people strolling with an aimless look across the golf links or 
down the lanes to the sea. In the same way, practically every one one 
sees this time of year is a stranger.” 

Poirot nodded thoughtfully. 

Inspector Crome asked to be taken over the ground of Sir 
Carmichael’s nightly walk. Franklin Clarke led the way through the 
French window, and Miss Grey accompanied us. 

She and I were a little behind the others. 

“All this must have been a terrible shock to you all,” I said. 

“It seems quite unbelievable. I had gone to bed last night when the 
police rang up. I heard voices downstairs and at last I came out and 
asked what was the matter. Deveril and Mr. Clarke were just setting 
out with lanterns.” 

“What time did Sir Carmichael usually come back from his walk?” 

“About a quarter to ten. He used to let himself in by the side door 
and then sometimes he went straight to bed, sometimes to the gallery 
where his collections were. That is why, unless the police had rung up, 
he would probably not have been missed till they went to call him this 
morning.” 

“It must have been a terrible shock to his wife?” 

“Lady Clarke is kept under morphia a good deal. I think she is in too 
dazed a condition to appreciate what goes on round her.” 

We had come out through a garden gate on to the golf links. Cross- 
ing a comer of them, we passed over a stile into a steep, winding lane. 

“This leads down to Elbury Cove,” explained Franklin Clarke. “But 
two years ago they made a new road leading from the main road to 
Broadsands and on to Elbury, so that now this lane is practically de- 
serted.” 

We went on down the lane. At the foot of it a path led between bram- 
bles and bracken down to the sea. Suddenly we came out on a grassy 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


81 


ridge overlooking the sea and a beach of glistening white stones. All 
round dark green trees ran down to the sea. It was an enchanting 
spot — white, deep green — and sapphire blue. 

“How beautiful!” I exclaimed. 

Clarke turned to me eagerly. 

“Isn’t it? Why people want to go abroad to the Riviera when they’ve 
got this! I’ve wandered all over the world in my time and, honest to 
God, I’ve never seen anything as beautiful.” 

Then, as though ashamed of his eagerness, he said in a more matter- 
of-fact tone: 

“This was my brother’s evening walk. He came as far as here, then 
back up the path, and turning to the right instead of the left, went past 
the farm and across the fields back to the house.” 

We proceeded on our way till we came to a spot near the hedge, half- 
way across the field where the body had been found. 

Crome nodded. 

“Easy enough. The man stood here in the shadow. Your brother 
would have noticed nothing till the blow fell.” 

The girl at my side gave a quick shiver. 

Franklin Clarke said: 

“Hold up, Thora. It’s pretty beastly, but it’s no use shirking facts.” 

Thora Grey — the name suited her. 

We went back to the house where the body had been taken after be- 
ing photographed. 

As we mounted the wide staircase the doctor came out of a room, 
black bag in hand. 

“Anything to tell us, doctor?” inquired Clarke. 

The doctor shook his head. 

“Perfectly simple case. I’ll keep the technicalities for the inquest. 
Anyway, he didn’t suffer. Death must have been instantaneous.” 

He moved away. 

“I’ll just go in and see Lady Clarke.” 

A hospital nurse came out of a room further along the corridor and 
the doctor joined her. 

We went into the room out of which the doctor had come. 

I came out again rather quickly. Thora Grey was still standing at the 
head of the stairs. 

There was a queer scared expression on her face. 

“Miss Grey — ” I stopped. “Is anything the matter?” 

She looked at me. 

“I was thinking,” she said — “about D.” 



82 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“About D?” I stared at her stupidly. 

“Yes. The next murder. Something must be done. It’s got to be 
stopped.” 

Clarke came out of the room behind me. 

He said; 

“What’s got to be stopped, Thora?” 

‘These awful murders.” 

“Yes.” His jaw thrust itself out aggressively. “I want to talk to 

M. Poirot sometime Is Crome any good?” He shot the words out 

unexpectedly. 

I replied that he was supposed to be a very clever officer. 

My voice was perhaps not as enthusiastic as it might have been. 

“He’s got a damned offensive manner,” said Clarke. “Looks as 
though he knows everything — and what does he know? Nothing at all 
as far as I can make out.” 

He was silent for a minute or two. Then he said: 

“M. Poirot’s the man for my money. I’ve got a plan. But we’ll talk of 
that later.” 

He went along the passage and tapped at the same door as the doctor 
had entered. 

I hesitated a moment. The girl was staring in front of her. 

“What are you thinking of. Miss Grey?” 

She turned her eyes towards me. 

“I’m wondering where he is now . . . the murderer, I mean. It’s not 
twelve hours yet since it happened. ... Oh! aren’t there any real clair- 
voyants who could see where he is now and what he is doing . . . ?” 

“The police are searching — •” I began. 

My commonplace words broke the spell. Thora Grey pulled herself 
together. 

“Yes,” she said. “Of course.” 

In her turn she descended the staircase. I stood there a moment 
longer conning her words over in my mind. 

A.B.C. ... 

Where was he now . . . ? 



XVI. (Not from Captain Hostings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust came out with the rest of the audience 
from the Torquay Pavilion, where he had been seeing and hearing that 
highly emotional film. Not a Sparrow 

He blinked a little as he came out into the afternoon sunshine and 
peered round him in that lost-dog fashion that was characteristic of 
him. 

He murmured to himself: “It’s an idea ” 

Newsboys passed along crying out: 

“Latest . . . Homicidal Maniac at Churston . . 

They carried placards on which was written: 

Churston Murder. Latest. 

Mr. Cust fumbled in his pocket, found a coin, and bought a paper. 
He did not open it at once. 

Entering the Princess Gardens, he slowly made his way to a shelter 
facing Torquay harbour. He sat down and opened the paper. 

There were big headlines: 


Sir Carmichael Clarke Murdered 
Terrible Tragedy at Churston 
Work of a Homicidal Maniac 


And below them: 



84 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


Only a month ago England was shocked and startled by the mur- 
der of a young girl , Elizabeth Barnard , at BexhiU. It may be remem- 
bered that an A.B.C. railway guide figured in the case . An A.B.C. 
was also found by the dead body of Sir Carmichael Clarke , and the 
police incline to the belief that both crimes were committed by the 
same person . Can it be possible that a homicidal murderer is going 
the round of our seaside resorts? . . . 

A young man in flannel trousers and a bright blue aertex shirt who 
was sitting beside Mr. Cust remarked: 

“Nasty business — eh?” 

Mr. Cust jumped. 

“Oh, very — very — ” 

His hands, the young man noticed, were trembling so that he could 
hardly hold the paper. 

“You never know with lunatics,” said the young man chattily. “They 
don’t always look balmy, you know. Often they seem just the same as 
you or me ” 

“I suppose they do,” said Mr. Cust. 

“It’s a fact. Sometimes it’s the war what unhinged them — never 
been right since.” 

“I — I expect you’re right.” 

“I don’t hold with wars,” said the young man. 

His companion turned on him. 

“I don’t hold with plague and sleeping sickness and famine and can- 
cer .. . but they happen all the same!” 

“War’s preventable,” said the young man with assurance. 

Mr. Cust laughed. He laughed for some time. 

The young man was slightly alarmed. 

“He’s a bit batty himself,” he thought. 

Aloud he said: 

“Sorry, sir, I expect you were in the war.” 

“I was,” said Mr. Cust. “It — it — unsettled me. My head’s never been 
right since. It aches, you know. Aches terribly.” 

“Oh! I’m sorry about that,” said the young man awkwardly. 
“Sometimes I hardly know what I’m doing. . . .” 

“Really? Well, I must be getting along,” said the young man and re- 
moved himself hurriedly. He knew what people were once they began 
to talk about their health. 

Mr. Cust remained with his paper. 

He read and reread 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


85 


People passed to and fro in front of him. 

Most of them were talking of the murder. . . . 

“Awful ... do you think it was anything to do with the Chinese? 
Wasn’t the waitress in a Chinese cafe? . . .” 

“Actually on the golf links . . .” 

“I heard it was on the beach . . .” 

“■ — but, darling, we took out tea to Elbury only yesterday . . 

“ — police are sure to get him . . .” 

“ — say he may be arrested any minute now . . ” 

“ — quite likely he’s in Torquay . . . that other woman was who mur- 
dered the what do you call ’eras . . .” 

Mr. Cust folded up the paper very neatly and laid it on the seat. Then 
he rose and walked sedately along towards the town. 

Girls passed him, girls in white and pink and blue, in summery 
frocks and pyjamas and shorts. They laughed and giggled. Their eyes 
appraised the men they passed. 

Not once did their eyes linger for a second on Mr. Cust. . . . 

He sat down at a little table and ordered tea and Devonshire 
cream. ... 



XVII. Marking Time 


V 


With the murder of Sir Carmichael Clarke the A.B.C. mystery leaped 
into the fullest prominence. 

The newspapers were full of nothing else. All sorts of “clues” were 
reported to have been discovered. Arrests were announced to be immi- 
nent. There were photographs of every person or place remotely con- 
nected with the murder. There were interviews with any one who 
would give interviews. There were questions asked in Parliament. 

The Andover murder was not bracketed with the other two. 

It was the belief of Scotland Yard that the fullest publicity was the 
best chance of laying the murderer by the heels. The population of 
Great Britain turned itself into an army of amateur sleuths. 

The Daily Flicker had the grand inspiration of using the caption: 

He may be in your town! 

Poirot, of course, was in the thick of things. The letters sent to him 
were published and facsimiled. He was abused wholesale for not hav- 
ing prevented the crimes and defended on the ground that he was on 
the point of naming the murderer. 

Reporters incessantly badgered him for interviews. 

What M. Poirot Says To-day. 

Which was usually followed by a half-column of imbecilities. 

M. Poirot Takes Grave View of Situation. 

M. Poirot on the Eve of Success. 

86 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


87 


Captain Hastings ; r/z£ great friend of M. Poirot, told our Special 
Representative . . . 

“Poirot,” I would cry. “Pray believe me. I never said anything of the 
kind.” 

My friend would reply kindly: 

“I know, Hastings — I know. The spoken word and the written — 
there is an astonishing gulf between them. There is a way of turning 
sentences that completely reverses the original meaning.” 

“I wouldn’t like you to think I’d said — ” 

“But do not worry yourself. All this is of no importance. These im- 
becilities, even, may help.” 

“How?” 

“Eh bien, ” said Poirot grimly. “If our madman reads what I am sup- 
posed to have said to the Daily Flicker today, he will lose all respect 
for me as an opponent!” 

I am, perhaps, giving the impression that nothing practical was be- 
ing done in the way of investigations. On the contrary, Scotland Yard 
and the local police of the various counties were indefatigable in fol- 
lowing up the smallest clues. 

Hotels, people who kept lodgings, boarding-houses — all those 
within a wide radius of the crimes were questioned minutely. 

Hundreds of stories from imaginative people who had “seen a man 
looking very queer and rolling his eyes,” or “noticed a man with a sin- 
ister face slinking along,” were sifted to the last detail. No information, 
even of the vaguest character, was neglected. Trains, buses, trams, rail- 
way porters, conductors, bookstalls, stationers — there was an indefati- 
gable round of questions and verifications. 

At least a score of people were detained and questioned until they 
could satisfy the police as to their movements on the night in question. 

The net result was not entirely a blank. Certain statements were 
borne in mind and noted down as of possible value, but without further 
evidence they led nowhere. 

If Crome and his colleagues were indefatigable, Poirot seemed to 
me strangely supine. We argued now and again. 

“But what is it that you would have me do, my friend? The routine 
inquiries, the police make them better than I do. Always — always you 
want me to run about like the dog.” 

“Instead of which you sit at home like — like — ” 

“A sensible man! My force, Hastings, is in my brain , not in my feed 
All the time, whilst I seem to you idle, I am reflecting.” 

“Reflecting?” I cried. “Is this a time for reflection?” 



88 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Yes, a thousand times yes.” 

“But what can you possibly gain by reflection? You know the facts 
of the three cases by heart.” 

“It is not the facts I reflect upon — but the mind of the murderer.” 

“The mind of a madman!” 

“Precisely. And therefore not to be arrived at in a minute. When I 
know what the murderer is like, I shall be able to find out who he is. 
And all the time I learn more. After the Andover crime, what did we 
know about the murderer? Next to nothing at all. After the Bexhill 
crime? A little more. After the Churston murder? More still. I begin to 
see — not what you would like to see — the outlines of a face and 
form — but the outlines of a mind. A mind that moves and works in cer- 
tain definite directions. After the next crime — ” 

“Poirot!” 

My friend looked at me dispassionately. 

“But, yes, Hastings, I think it is almost certain there will be another. 
A lot depends on la chance. So far our inconnu has been lucky. This 
time the luck may turn against him. But in any case, after another 
crime, we shall know infinitely more. Crime is terribly revealing. Try 
and vary your methods as you will your tastes, your habits, your atti- 
tude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions. There are con- 
fusing indications — sometimes it is as though there were two 
intelligences at work — but soon the outline will clear itself, I shall 
know. 79 

“Who it is?” 

“No, Hastings, I shall not know his name and address! I shall know 
what kind of man he is ” 

“And then?” 

“Et alors , je vais a la peche. ” 

As I looked rather bewildered, he went on: 

“You comprehend, Hastings, an expert fisherman knows exactly 
what flies to offer to what fish. I shall offer the right kind of fly.” 

“And then?” 

“And then? And then? You are as bad as the superior Crome with his 
eternal, 4 Oh, yes?’ Eh bien , and then he will take the bait and the hook 
and we will reel in the line ” 

“In the meantime people are dying right and left.” 

“Three people. And there are, what is it — about 140 — road deaths 
every week?” 

“That is entirely different.” 

“It is probably exactly the same to those who die. For the others, the 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


89 


relations, the friends — yes, there is a difference, but one thing at least 
rejoices me in this case.” 

“By all means let us hear anything in the nature of rejoicing.” 

“ Inutile to be so sarcastic. It rejoices me that there is here no shadow 
of guilt to distress the innocent.” 

“Isn’t this worse?” 

“No, no, a thousand times no! There is nothing so terrible as to live 
in an atmosphere of suspicion — to see eyes watching you and the love 
in them changing to fear — nothing so terrible as to suspect those near 
and dear to you ... It is poisonous — a miasma. No, the poisoning of 
life for the innocent, that, at least, we cannot lay at A.B.C’s door.” 

“You’ll soon be making excuses for the man!” I said bitterly. 

“Why not? He may believe himself fully justified. We may, perhaps*, 
end by having sympathy with his point of view.” 

“Really, Poirot!” 

“Alas! I have shocked you. First my inertia — and then my views.” 

I shook my head without replying. 

“All the same,” said Poirot after a minute or two, “I have one project 
that will please you — since it is active and not passive. Also, it will en- 
tail a lot of conversation and practically no thought.” 

I did not quite like his tone. 

“What is it?” I asked cautiously. 

“The extraction from the friends, relations, and servants of the vic- 
tims of all they know.” 

“Do you suspect them of keeping things back, then?” 

“Not intentionally. But telling everything you know always implies 
selection . If I were to say to you, recount me your day yesterday, you 
would perhaps reply: T rose at nine, I breakfasted at half-past, I had 
eggs and bacon and coffee, I went to my club, etc.’ You would not in- 
clude: ‘I tore my nail and had to cut it. I rang for shaving water. I spilt 
a little coffee on the tablecloth. I brushed my hat and put it on.’ One 
cannot tell everything. Therefore one selects. At the time of a murder 
people select what they think is important. But quite frequently they 
think wrong!” 

“And how is one to get at the right things?” 

“Simply, as I said just now, by conversation. By talking! By discuss- 
ing a certain happening, or a certain person, or a certain day, over and 
over again, extra details are bound to arise.” 

“What kind of details?” 

“Naturally that I do not know or I should not want to find out! But 
enough time has passed now for ordinary things to reassume their 



90 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


value. It is against all mathematical laws that in three cases of murder 
there is no single fact or sentence with a bearing on the case. Some 
trivial happening, some trivial remark there must be which would be a 
pointer! It is looking for the needle in the haystack, I grant — but in the 
haystack there is a needle — of that I am convinced!” 

It seemed to me extremely vague and hazy. 

“You do not see it? Your wits are not so sharp as those of a mere ser- 
vant girl.” 

He tossed me over a letter. It was neatly written in a sloping board- 
school hand. 

Dear Sir — I hope you will forgive the liberty I take in writing to 
you. / have been thinking a lot since these awful two murders like 
poor Auntie's. It seems as though we're all in the same boat , as it 
were. I saw the young lady's picture in the paper, the young lady, I 
mean, that is the sister of the young lady that was killed at BexhilL I 
made so bold as to write to her and tell her I was coming to London 
to get a place and asked if 1 could come to her or her mother as I 
said two heads might be better than one and I would not want much 
wages, but only to find out who this awful fiend is and perhaps we 
might get at it better if we could say what we knew something might 
come of it. 

The young lady wrote very nicely and said as how she worked in 
an office and lived in a hotel, but she suggested I might write to you 
and she said she'd been thinking something of the same kind as I 
had. And she said we were in the same trouble and we ought to stand 
together. So I am writing, sir, to say I am coming to London and this 
is my address. 

Hoping I am not troubling you, Yours respectfully, 

Mary Drower 

“Mary Drower,” said Poirot, “is a very intelligent girl.” 

He picked up another letter. 

“Read this.” 

It was a line from Franklin Clarke, saying that he was coming to 
London and would call upon Poirot the following day if not inconven- 
ient. 

“Do not despair, mon ami," said Poirot. “Action is about to begin.” 



XVIII. Poirot Mokes a Speech 
V 


Franklin Clarke arrived at three o’clock on the following afternoon and 
came straight to the point without beating about the bush. 

“M. Poirot,” he said, “I’m not satisfied.” 

“No, Mr. Clarke?” 

“I’ve no doubt that Crome is a very efficient officer, but frankly, he 
puts my back up. That air of his of knowing best! I hinted something of 
what I had in mind to your friend here when he was down at Churston, 
but I’ve had all my brother’s affairs to settle up and I haven’t been free 
until now. My idea is, M. Poirot, that we oughtn’t to let the grass grow 
under our feet — ” 

“Just what Hastings is always saying!” 

“ — but go right ahead. We’ve got to get ready for the next crime.” 

“So you think there will be a next crime?” 

“Don’t you?” 

“Certainly.” 

“Very well, then. I want to get organized.” 

‘Tell me your idea exactly.” 

“I propose, M. Poirot, a kind of special legion — to work under your 
orders — composed of the friends and relatives of the murdered peo- 
ple.” 

“Une bonne idee!” 

“I’m glad you approve. By putting our heads together I feel we 
might get at something. Also, when the next warning comes, by being 

91 



92 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


on the spot, one of us might — I don’t say it’s probable — but we might 
recognize some person as having been near the scene of a previous 
crime.” 

“I see your idea, and I approve, but you must remember, Mr. Frank- 
lin, the relations and friends of the other victims are hardly in your 
sphere of life. They are employed persons and though they might be 
given a short vacation — ” 

Franklin Clarke interrupted. 

“That’s just it. I’m the only person in a position to foot the bill. Not 
that I’m particularly well off myself, but my brother died a rich man 
and it will eventually come to me. I propose, as I say, to enroll a special 
legion, the members to be paid for their services at the same rate as 
they get habitually, with, of course, the additional expenses.” 

“Who do you propose should form this legion?” 

“I’ve been into that. As a matter of fact, I wrote to Miss Megan 
Barnard — indeed, this is partly her idea. I suggest myself, Miss 
Barnard, Mr. Donald Fraser, who was engaged to the dead girl. Then 
there is a niece of the Andover woman — Miss Barnard knows her ad- 
dress. I don’t think the husband would be of any use to us — I hear he’s 
usually drunk. I also think the Barnards — the father and mother — are a 
bit old for active campaigning.” 

“Nobody else?” 

“Well — er— Miss Grey.” 

He flushed slightly as he spoke the name. 

“Oh! Miss Grey?” 

Nobody in the world could put a gentle nuance of irony into a couple 
of words better than Poirot. About thirty-five years fell away from 
Franklin Clarke. He looked suddenly like a shy schoolboy. 

“Yes. You see, Miss Grey was with my brother for over two years. 
She knows the countryside and the people round, and everything. I’ve 
been away for a year and a half.” 

Poirot took pity on him and turned the conversation. 

“You have been in the East? In China?” 

“Yes. I had a kind of roving commission to purchase things for my 
brother.” 

“Very interesting it must have been. Eh bien, Mr. Clarke, I approve 
very highly of your idea. I was saying to Hastings only yesterday that a 
rapprochement of the people concerned was needed. It is necessary to 
pool reminiscences, to compare notes — enfin to talk the thing over — to 
talk — to talk — and again to talk. Out of some innocent phrase may 
come enlightenment.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


93 


A few days later the “Special Legion” met at Poirot’s rooms. 

As they sat round looking obediently towards Poirot, who had his 
place, like the chairman at a Board meeting, at the head of the table, I 
myself passed them, as it were, in review, confirming or revising my 
first impressions of them. 

The three girls were all of them striking-looking — the extraordinary 
fair beauty of Thora Grey, the dark intensity of Megan Barnard, with 
her strange Red Indian immobility of face — Mary Drower, neatly 
dressed in a black coat and skirt, with her pretty, intelligent face. Of the 
two men, Franklin Clarke, big, bronzed and talkative, Donald Fraser, 
self-contained and quiet, made an interesting contrast to each other. 

Poirot, unable, of course, to resist the occasion, made a little speech. 

“Mesdames and Messieurs, you know what we are here for. The po- 
lice are doing their utmost to track down the criminal. I, too, in my dif- 
ferent way. But it seems to me a reunion of those who have a personal 
interest in the matter — and also, I may say, a personal knowledge of 
the victims — might have results that an outside investigation cannot 
pretend to attain. 

“Here we have three murders — an old woman, a young girl, an el- 
derly man. Only one thing links these three people together — the fact 
that the same person killed them. That means that the same person was 
present in three different localities and was seen necessarily by a large 
number of people. That he is a madman in an advanced stage of mania 
goes without saying. That his appearance and behaviour give no sug- 
gestion of such a fact is equally certain. This person — and though I say 
he, remember it may be a man or woman — has all the devilish cunning 
of insanity. He has succeeded so far in covering his traces completely. 
The police have certain vague indications but nothing upon which they 
can act. 

“Nevertheless, there must exist indications which are not vague but 
certain. To take one particular point — this assassin he did not arrive at 
Bexhill at midnight and find conveniently on the beach a young lady 
whose name began with B — ” 

“Must we go into that?” 

It was Donald Fraser who spoke — the words wrung from him, it 
seemed, by some inner anguish. 

“It is necessary to go into everything, Monsieur,” said Poirot, turn- 
ing to him. “You are here, not to save your feelings by refusing to think 
of details, but if necessary to harrow them by going into the matter au 
fond . As I say, it was not chance that provided A.B.C. with a victim in 
Betty Barnard. There must have been deliberate selection on his part — 



94 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


and therefore premeditation. That is to say, he must have reconnoitered 
the ground beforehand. There were facts of which he had informed 
himself — the best hour for the committing of the crime at Andover — 
the mise en scene at Bexhill — the habits of Sir Carmichael Clarke at 
Churston. Me, for one, I refuse to believe that there is no 
indication — no slightest hint — that might help to establish his identity. 

“I make the assumption that one — or possibly all of you — knows 
something that they do not know they know. 

“Sooner or later, by reason of your association with one another, 
something will come to light, will take on a significance as yet un- 
dreamed of. It is like the jigsaw puzzle — each of you may have a piece 
apparently without meaning, but which when reunited may show a def- 
inite portion of the picture as a whole.” 

“Words!” said Megan Barnard. 

“Eh?” Poirot looked at her inquiringly. 

“What you’ve been saying. It’s just words. It doesn’t mean any- 
thing.” 

She spoke with that kind of desperate dark intensity that I had come 
to associate with her personality. 

“Words, mademoiselle, are only the outer clothing of ideas.” 

“Well, I think it’s sense,” said Mary Drower. “I do really, miss. It’s 
often when you’re talking over things that you seem to see your way 
clear. Your mind gets made up for you sometimes without your know- 
ing how it’s happened. Talking leads to a lot of things one way or an- 
other.” 

“If ‘least said is soonest mended,’ it’s the converse we want here,” 
said Franklin Clarke. 

“What do you say, Mr. Fraser?” 

“I rather doubt the practical applicability of what you say, 
M. Poirot.” 

“What do you think, Thora?” asked Clarke. 

“I think the principle of talking things over is always sound.” 

“Suppose,” suggested Poirot, “that you all go over your own re- 
membrances of the time preceding the murder. Perhaps you’ll start, 
Mr. Clarke.” 

“Let me see, on the morning of the day Car was killed I went off 
sailing. Caught eight mackerel. Lovely out there on the bay. Lunch at 
home. Irish stew, I remember. Slept in the hammock. Tea. Wrote some 
letters, missed the post, and drove into Paignton to post them. Then 
dinner and — I’m not ashamed to say it — reread a book of E. Nesbit’s 
that I used to love as a kid. Then the telephone rang — •” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


95 


“No further. Now reflect, Mr. Clarke, did you meet any one on your 
way down to the sea in the morning?” 

“Lots of people.” 

“Can you remember anything about them?” 

“Not a damned thing now.” 

“Sure?” 

“Well — let’s see — I remember a remarkably fat woman — she wore 
a striped silk dress and I wondered why — had a couple of kids with her 
. . . two young men with a fox terrier on the beach throwing stones for 
it — Oh yes, a girl with yellow hair squeaking as she bathed — funny 
how things come back — like a photograph developing.” 

“You are a good subject. Now later in the day — the garden — going 
to the post — ■” 

“The gardener watering . . . Going to the post? Nearly ran down a 
bicyclist — silly woman wobbling and shouting to a friend. That’s all, 
I’m afraid.” 

Poirot turned to Thora Grey. 

“Miss Grey?” 

Thora Grey replied in her clear, positive voice: 

“I did correspondence with Sir Carmichael in the morning — saw the 
housekeeper. I wrote letters and did needlework in the afternoon, I 
fancy. It is difficult to remember. It was quite an ordinary day. I went to 
bed early.” 

Rather to my surprise, Poirot asked no further. He said: 

“Miss Barnard — can you bring back your remembrances of the last 
time you saw your sister?” 

“It would be about a fortnight before her death. I was down for Sat- 
urday and Sunday. It was fine weather. We went to Hastings to the 
swimming pool.” 

“What did you talk about most of the time?” 

“I gave her a piece of my mind,” said Megan. 

“And what else? She conversed of what?” 

The girl frowned in an effort of memory. 

“She talked about being hard up — of a hat and a couple of summer 
frocks she’d just bought. And a little of Don She also said she dis- 

liked Milly Higley — that’s the girl at the cafe — and we laughed about 
the Merrion woman who keeps the cafe I don’t remember any- 

thing else. . . ” 

“She didn’t mention any man — forgive me, Mr. Fraser — she might 
be meeting?” 

“She wouldn’t to me,” said Megan dryly. 



96 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


Poirot turned to the red-haired young man with the square jaw. 

“Mr. Fraser — I want you to cast your mind back. You went, you 
said, to the cafe on the fatal evening. Your first intention was to wait 
there and watch for Betty Barnard to come out. Can you remember any 
one at all whom you noticed whilst you were waiting there?” 

“There were a large number of people walking along the front. I 
can’t remember any of them.” 

“Excuse me, but are you trying? However preoccupied the mind 
may be, the eye notices mechanically — unintelligently but accu- 
rately ” 

The young man repeated doggedly: 

“I don’t remember anybody.” 

Poirot sighed and turned to Mary Drower. 

“I suppose you got letters from your aunt?” 

“Oh, yes, sir.” 

“When was the last?” 

Mary thought a minute. 

‘Two days before the murder, sir.” 

“What did it say?” 

“She said the old devil had been round and that she’d sent him off 
with a flea in the ear — excuse the expression, sir — said she expected 
me over on the Wednesday — that’ s my day out, sir — and she said we’d 
go to the pictures. It was going to be my birthday, sir.” 

Something — the thought of the little festivity perhaps, suddenly 
brought tears to Mary’s eyes. She gulped down a sob. Then apologized 
for it. 

“You must forgive me, sir. I don’t want to be silly. Crying’s no good. 
It was just the thought of her — and me — looking forward to our treat. 
It upset me somehow, sir.” 

“I know just what you feel like,” said Franklin Clarke. “It’s always 
the little things that get one — and especially anything like a treat or a 
present — something jolly and natural. I remember seeing a woman run 
over once. She’d just bought some new shoes. I saw her lying there — 
and the burst parcel with the ridiculous little high-heeled slippers peep- 
ing out — it gave me a turn — they looked so pathetic.” 

Megan said with a sudden eager warmth: 

“That’s true — that’s awfully true. The same thing happened after 
Betty — died. Mum had bought some stockings for her as a present — 
bought them the very day it happened. Poor mum, she was ail broken 
up. I found her crying over them. She kept saying: T bought them for 
Betty — I bought them for Betty — and she never even saw them.’ ” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


97 


Her own voice quivered a little. She leaned forward, looking straight 
at Franklin Clarke. There was between them a sudden sympathy — a 
fraternity in trouble. 

“I know,” he said. “I know exactly. Those are just the sort of things 
that are hell to remember.” 

Donald Fraser stirred uneasily. 

Thora Grey diverted the conversation. 

“Aren’t we going to make any plans — for the future?” she asked. 

“Of course.” Franklin Clarke resumed his ordinary manner. “I think 
that when the moment comes — that is, when the fourth letter 
arrives — we ought to join forces. Until then, perhaps we might each try 
our luck on our own. I don’t know whether there are any points 
M. Poirot thinks might repay investigation?” 

“I could make some suggestions,” said Poirot 

“Good. I’ll take them down.” He produced a notebook. “Go ahead, 
M. Poirot. A — ?” 

“I consider it just possible that the waitress, Milly Higley, might 
know something useful.” 

“A — Milly Higley,” wrote down Franklin Clarke. 

“I suggest two methods of approach. You, Miss Barnard, might try 
what I call the offensive approach.” 

“I suppose you think that suits my style?” said Megan dryly. 

“Pick a quarrel with the girl — say you knew she never liked your 
sister — and that your sister had told you all about her. If I do not err, 
that will provoke a flood of recrimination. She will tell you just what 
she thought of your sister! Some useful fact may emerge.” 

“And the second method?” 

“May I suggest, Mr. Fraser, that you should show signs of interest in 
the girl?” 

“Is that necessary?” 

“No, it is not necessary. It is just a possible line of exploration.” 

“Shall I try my hand?” asked Franklin. “I’ve — er — a pretty wide ex- 
perience, M. Poirot. Let me see what I can do with the young lady.” 

“You’ve got your own part of the world to attend to,” said Thora 
Grey rather sharply. 

Franklin’s face fell just a little. 

“Yes,” he said. “I have.” 

“Tout de meme, I do not think there is much you can do down there 
for the present,” said Poirot. “Mademoiselle Grey now, she is far more 
fitted — ” 

Thora Grey interrupted him. 



98 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“But you see, M. Poirot, I have left Devon for good.” 

“Ah? I did not understand.” 

“Miss Grey very kindly stayed on to help me clear up things,” said 
Franklin. “But naturally she prefers a post in London.” 

Poirot directed a sharp glance from one to the other. 

“How is Lady Clarke?” he demanded. 

I was admiring the faint colour in Thora Grey’s cheeks and almost 
missed Clarke’s reply. 

“Pretty bad. By the way, M. Poirot, I wonder if you could see your 
way to running down to Devon and paying her a visit? She expressed a 
desire to see you before I left. Of course, she often can’t see people for 
a couple of days at a time, but if you would risk that — at my expense, 
of course.” 

“Certainly, Mr. Clarke. Shall we say, the day after tomorrow?” 

“Good. I’ll let nurse know and she’ll arrange the dope accordingly.” 

“For you, my child,” said Poirot, turning to Mary, “I think you 
might perhaps do good work in Andover. Try the children.” 

“The children?” 

“Yes. Children will not chat readily to outsiders. But you are known 
in the street where your aunt lived. There were a good many children 
playing about. They may have noticed who went in and out of your 
aunt’s shop.” 

“What about Miss Grey and myself?” asked Clarke. “That is, if I’m 
not to go to Bexhill.” 

“M. Poirot,” said Thora Grey. “What was the postmark on the third 
letter?” 

“Putney, mademoiselle.” 

She said thoughtfully: “S.W.15, Putney, that is right, is it not?” 

“For a wonder, the newspapers printed it correctly.” 

“That seems to point to A.B.C. being a Londoner.” 

“On the face of it, yes.” 

“One ought to be able to draw him,” said Clarke. “M. Poirot, how 
would it be if I inserted an advertisement — something after these lines: 
A.B.C. Urgent. H.P. close on your track. A hundred for my silence. 
X.Y.Z. Nothing quite so crude as that — but you see the idea. It might 
draw him.” 

“It is a possibility — yes.” 

“Might induce him to try and have a shot at me.” 

“I think it’s very dangerous and silly,” said Thora Grey sharply. 

“What about it, M. Poirot?” 

“It can do no harm to try. I think myself that A.B.C. will be too cun- 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


99 


ning to reply.” Poirot smiled a little. “I see, Mr. Clarke, that you 
are — if I may say so without being offensive — still a boy at heart.” 
Franklin Clarice looked a little abashed. 

“Well,” he said, consulting his notebook, “we’re making a start. 

A. — Miss Barnard and Milly Higley. 

B. — Mr. Fraser and Miss Higley. 

C. — Children in Andover. 

D. — Advertisement. 

I don’t feel any of it is much good, but it will be something to do 
whilst waiting.” 

He got up and a few minutes later the meeting had dispersed. 



XIX. By UUay of Suueden 
V 


Poirot returned to his seat and sat humming a little tune to himself. 

“Unfortunate that she is so intelligent,” he murmured. 

“Who?” 

“Megan Barnard. Mademoiselle Megan. ‘Words,’ she snaps out. At 
once she perceives that what I am saying means nothing at all. Every- 
body else was taken in.” 

“I thought it sounded very plausible.” 

“Plausible, yes. It was just that that she perceived.” 

“Didn’t you mean what you said, then?” 

“What I said could have been comprised into one short sentence. In- 
stead I repeated myself ad lib. without any one but Mademoiselle 
Megan being aware of the fact.” 

“But why?” 

u Eh bien — to get things going! To imbue every one with the impres- 
sion that there was work to be done! To start — shall we say — the con- 
versations!” 

“Don’t you think any of these lines will lead to anything?” 

“Oh, it is always possible.” 

He chuckled. 

“In the midst of tragedy we start the comedy. It is so, is it not?” 

“What do you mean?” 

“The human drama, Hastings! Reflect a little minute. Here are three 
sets of human beings brought together by a common tragedy. Immedi- 

100 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


101 


ately a second drama commences — tout a fait a part. Do you remem- 
ber my first case in England? Oh, so many years ago now. I brought to- 
gether two people who loved one another — by the simple method of 
having one of them arrested for murder! Nothing less would have done 
it! In the midst of death we are in life, Hastings. . . . Murder, I have of- 
ten noticed, is a great matchmaker.” 

“Really, Poirot,” I cried, scandalized. Tm sure none of those peo- 
ple was thinking of anything but — ” 

“Oh! my dear friend. And what about yourself?” 

“I?” 

“Mais oui, as they departed, did you not come back from the door 
humming a tune?” 

“One may do that without being callous.” 

“Certainly, but that tune told me your thoughts.” 

“Indeed?” 

“Yes. To hum a tune is extremely dangerous. It reveals the sub- 
conscious mind. The tune you hummed dates, I think, from the days of 
the war. Comme gaP Poirot sang in an abominable falsetto voice: 

“Some of the time I love a brunette , 

Some of the time I love a blonde (who comes from 
Eden by way of Sweden). 

“What could be more revealing? Mais je crois que la blonde 
Vemporte sur la brunetter 

“Really, Poirot,” I cried, blushing slightly. 

“ C’est tout naturel. Did you observe how Franklin Clarke was sud- 
denly at one and in sympathy with Mademoiselle Megan? How he 
leaned forward and looked at her? And did you also notice how veiy 
much annoyed Mademoiselle Thora Grey was about it? And Mr. Don- 
ald Fraser, he — ” 

“Poirot,” I said, “your mind is incurably sentimental.” 

“That is the last thing my mind is. You are the sentimental one, 
Hastings.” 

I was about to argue the point hotly, but at that moment the door 
opened. To my astonishment it was Thora Grey who entered. 

“Forgive me for coming back,” she said composedly. “But there 
was something that I think I would like to tell you, M. Poirot.” 

“Certainly, mademoiselle. Sit down, will you not?” 

She took a seat and hesitated for just a minute as though choosing 
her words. 



102 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“It is just this, Mr. Poirot. Mr. Clarke very generously gave you to 
understand just now that I had left Combeside by my own wish. He is a 
very kind and loyal person. But as a matter of fact, it is not quite like 
that. I was quite prepared to stay on — there is any amount of work to 
be done in connection with the collections. It was Lady Clarke who 
wished me to leave! I can make allowances. She is a very ill woman, 
and her brain is somewhat muddled with the drugs they give her. It 
makes her suspicious and fanciful. She took an unreasoning dislike to 
me and insisted that I should leave the house.” 

I could not but admire the girl’s courage. She did not attempt to 
gloss over facts, as so many might have been tempted to do, but went 
straight to the point with an admirable candour. My heart went out to 
her in admiration and sympathy. 

“I call it splendid of you to come and tell us this,” I said. 

“It’s always better to have the truth,” she said with a little smile. “I 
don’t want to shelter behind Mr. Clarke’s chivalry. He is a very chival- 
rous man.” 

There was a warm glow in her words. She evidently admired Frank- 
lin Clarke enormously. 

“You have been very honest, mademoiselle,” said Poirot. 

“It is rather a blow to me,” said Thora ruefully. “I had no idea Lady 
Clarke disliked me so much. In fact, I always thought she was rather 
fond of me.” She made a wry face. “One lives and learns.” 

She rose. 

“That is all I came to say. Good-bye.” 

I accompanied her downstairs. 

“I call that very sporting of her,” I said as I returned to the room. 
“She has courage, that girl.” 

“And calculation.” 

“What do you mean — calculation?” 

“I mean that she has the power of looking ahead.” 

I looked at him doubtfully. 

“She really is a lovely girl,” I said. 

“And wears very lovely clothes. That crepe marocain and the silky 
fox collar — dernier cril” 

“You’re a man milliner, Poirot. I never notice what people have on.” 

“You should join a nudist colony.” 

As I was about to make an indignant rejoinder, he said, with a sud- 
den change of subject: 

“Do you know, Hastings, I cannot rid my mind of the impression 
that already, in our conversations this afternoon, something was said 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


103 


that was significant. It is odd — I cannot pin down exactly what it 
was Just an impression that passed through my mind That re- 

minds me of something I have already heard or seen or noted . . . 

“Something at Churston?” 

“No — not at Churston Before that No matter, presently it 

will come to me ” 

He looked at me (perhaps I had not been attending very closely), 
laughed and began once more to hum. 

“She is an angel, is she not? From Eden, by way of Sweden ” 

“Poirot,” I said. “Go to the devil!” 



XX. Lady Clarke 
V 


There was an air of deep and settled melancholy over Combeside when 
we saw it again for the second time. This may, perhaps, have been 
partly due to the weather — it was a moist September day with a hint of 
autumn in the air, and partly, no doubt, it was the semi-shut state of the 
house. The downstairs rooms were closed and shuttered, and the small 
room into which we were shown smelt damp and airless. 

A capable-looking hospital nurse came to us there pulling down her 
starched cuffs. 

“M. Poirot?” she said briskly. “I am Nurse Capstick. I got Mr. 
Clarke’s letter saying you were coming.” 

Poirot inquired after Lady Clarke’s health. 

“Not bad at all really, all things considered.” 

“All things considered,” I presumed meant considering she was 
under sentence of death. 

“One can’t hope for much improvement, of course, but some new 
treatment has made things a little easier for her. Dr. Logan is quite 
pleased with her condition.” 

“But it is true, is it not, that she can never recover?” 

“Oh, we never actually say that,” said Nurse Capstick, a little 
shocked by this plain speaking. 

“I suppose her husband’s death was a terrible shock to her?” 

“Well, M. Poirot, if you understand what I mean, it wasn’t as much 
of a shock as it would have been to any one in full possession of her 

104 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


105 


health and faculties. Things are dimmed by Lady Clarke in her condi- 
tion.” 

“Pardon my asking, but was she deeply attached to her husband and 
he to her?” 

“Oh, yes, they were a very happy couple. He was very worried and 
upset about her, poor man. It’s always worse for a doctor, you know. 
They can't buoy themselves up with false hopes. I’m afraid it preyed 
on his mind very much to begin with.” 

“To begin with? Not so much afterwards?” 

“One gets used to everything, doesn’t one? And then Sir Carmichael 
had his collection. A hobby is a great consolation to a man. He used to 
run up to sales occasionally, and then he and Miss Grey were busy 
recataloguing and rearranging the museum on a new system.” 

“Oh, yes — Miss Grey. She has left, has she not?” 

“Yes — I’m very sorry about it — but ladies do take these fancies 
sometimes when they’re not well. And there’s no arguing with them. 
It’s better to give in. Miss Grey was very sensible about it.” 

“Has Lady Clarke always disliked her?” 

“No — that is to say, not disliked . As a matter of fact, I think she 
rather liked her to begin with. But there, I mustn’t keep you gossiping. 
My patient will be wondering what has become of us.” 

She led us upstairs to a room on the first floor. What had at one time 
been a bedroom had been turned into a cheerful-looking sitting-room. 

Lady Clarke was sitting in a big arm-chair near the window. She was 
painfully thin, and her face had the grey, haggard look of one who suf- 
fers much pain. She had a slightly far-away, dreamy look, and I noticed 
that the pupils of her eyes were mere pin-points. 

“This i£ M. Poirot whom you wanted to see,” said Nurse Capstick in 
her high, cheerful voice. 

“Oh, yes, M. Poirot,” said Lady Clarke vaguely. 

She extended her hand. 

“My friend Captain Hastings, Lady Clarke.” 

“How do you do? So good of you both to come.” 

We sat down as her vague gesture directed. There was a silence. 
Lady Clarke seemed to have lapsed into a dream. 

Presently with a slight effort she roused herself. 

“It was about Car, wasn’t it? About Car’s death. Oh, yes.” 

She sighed, but still in a far-away manner, shaking her head. 

“We never thought it would be that way round ... I was so sure I 
should be the first to go ” She mused a minute or two. “Car was 



106 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


very strong — wonderful for his age. He was never ill. He was nearly 
sixty — but he seemed more like fifty. . . . Yes, very strong. . . .” 

She relapsed again into her dream. Poirot, who was well acquainted 
with the effects of certain drugs and of how they give their taker the 
impression of endless time, said nothing. Lady Clarke said suddenly: 

“Yes — it was good of you to come. I told Franklin. He said he 
wouldn’t forget to tell you. I hope Franklin isn’t going to be foolish . . . 
he’s so easily taken in, in spite of having knocked about the world so 
much. Men are like that. . . . They remain boys . . . Franklin, in partic- 
ular.” 

“He has an impulsive nature,” said Poirot. 

“Yes — yes . . . And very chivalrous. Men are so foolish that way. 
Even Car — ” Her voice tailed off. 

She shook her head with a febrile impatience. 

“Everything’s so dim One’s body is a nuisance, M. Poirot, espe- 

cially when it gets the upper hand. One is conscious of nothing else — 
whether the pain will hold off or not — nothing else seems to matter.” 

“I know. Lady Clarke. It is one of the tragedies of this life.” 

“It makes me so stupid. I cannot even remember what it was I 
wanted to say to you.” 

“Was it something about your husband’s death?” 

“Car’s death? Yes, perhaps Mad, poor creature — the murderer, I 

mean. It’s all the noise and the speed nowadays — people can’t stand it. 
I’ve always been sorry for mad people — their heads must feel so queer. 
And then, being shut up — it must be so terrible. But what else can one 
do? If they kill people . . She shook her head — gently pained. “You 
haven’t caught him yet?” she asked. 

“No, not yet.” 

“He must have been hanging round here that day.” 

“There were so many strangers about, Lady Clarke. It is the holiday 
season.” 

“Yes — I forgot But they keep down by the beaches, they don’t 

come up near the house.” 

“No stranger came to the house that day.” 

“Who says so?” demanded Lady Clarke, with a sudden vigour. 

Poirot looked slightly taken aback. 

“The servants,” he said. “Miss Grey.” 

Lady Clarke said very distinctly: 

“That girl is a liar!” 

I started on my chair. Poirot threw me a glance. 

Lady Clarke was going on, speaking now rather feverishly. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


107 


“I didn’t like her. I never liked her. Car thought all the world of her. 
Used to go on about her being an orphan and alone in the world. 
What’s wrong with being an orphan? Sometimes it’s a blessing in dis- 
guise. You might have a good-for-nothing father and a mother who 
drank — then you would have something to complain about. Said she 
was so brave and such a good worker. I dare say she did her work well! 
I don’t know where all this bravery came in!” 

“Now don’t excite yourself, dear,” said Nurse Capstick, intervening. 
“We mustn’t have you getting tired.” 

“I soon sent her packing! Franklin had the impertinence to suggest 
that she might be a comfort to me. Comfort to me indeed! The sooner I 
saw the last of her the better — that’s what I said! Franklin’s a fool! I 
didn’t want him getting mixed up with her. He’s a boy! No sense! Til 
give her three months’ salary, if you like,’ I said. ‘But out she goes. I 
don’t want her in the house a day longer.’ There’s one thing about be- 
ing ill-— men can’t argue with you. He did what I said and she went. 
Went like a martyr, I expect — with more sweetness and braveiy!” 

“Now, dear, don’t get so excited. It’s bad for you.” 

Lady Clarke waved Nurse Capstick away. 

“ You were as much of a fool about her as any one else.” 

“Oh! Lady Clarke, you mustn’t say that. I did think Miss Grey a 
very nice girl — so romantic-looking, like some one out of a novel.” 

“I’ve no patience with the lot of you,” said Lady Clarke feebly. 

“Well, she’s gone now, my dear. Gone right away.” 

Lady Clarke shook her head with feeble impatience but she did not 
answer. 

Poirot said: 

“Why did you say that Miss Grey was a liar?” 

“Because she is. She told you no strangers came to the house, didn’t 
she?” 

“Yes.” 

“Very well, then. I saw her — with my own eyes — out of this 
window — talking to a perfectly strange man on the front door step.” 

“When was this?” 

“In the morning of the day Car died — about eleven o’clock.” 

“What did this man look like?” 

“An ordinary sort of man. Nothing special.” 

“A gentleman — or a tradesman?” 

“Not a tradesman. A shabby sort of person. I can’t remember.” 

A sudden quiver of pain shot across her face. 

“Please — you must go now — I’m a little tired — Nurse.” 



108 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


We obeyed the cue and took our departure. 

“That’s an extraordinary story,” I said to Poirot as we journeyed 
back to London. “About Miss Grey and a strange man.” 

“You see, Hastings? It is, as I tell you: there is always something to 
be found out” 

“Why did the girl lie about it and say she had seen no one?” 

“I can think of seven separate reasons — one of them an extremely 
simple one.” 

“Is that a snub?” I asked. 

“It is, perhaps, an invitation to use your ingenuity. But there is no 
need for us to perturb ourselves. The easiest way to answer the ques- 
tion is to ask her.” 

“And suppose she tells us another lie.” 

“That would indeed be interesting — and highly suggestive.” 

“It is monstrous to suppose that a girl like that could be in league 
with a madman.” 

“Precisely — so I do not suppose it.” 

I thought for some minutes longer. 

“A good-looking girl has a hard time of it,” I said at last with a sigh. 

“Du tout. Disabuse your mind of that idea.” 

“It’s true,” I insisted. “Every one’s hand is against her simply be- 
cause she is good-looking.” 

“You speak the betises , my friend. Whose hand was against her at 
Combeside? Sir Carmichaers? Franklin’s? Nurse Capstick’s?” 

“Lady Clarke was down on her, all right.” 

“ Mon ami , you are full of charitable feeling towards beautiful young 
girls. Me, I feel charitable to sick old ladies. It may be that Lady Clarke 
was the clear-sighted one — and that her husband, Mr. Franklin Clarke 
and Nurse Capstick were all as blind as bats — and Captain Hastings. 

“Realize, Hastings, that in the ordinary course of events those three 
separate dramas would never have touched each other. They would 
have pursued their course uninfluenced by each other. The permuta- 
tions and combinations of life, Hastings — I never cease to be fasci- 
nated by them.” 

“This is Paddington,” was the only answer I made. 

It was time, I felt, that some one pricked the bubble. 

On our arrival at Whitehaven Mansions we were told that a 
gentleman was waiting to see Poirot. 

I expected it to be Franklin, or perhaps Japp, but to my astonishment 
it turned out to be none other than Donald Fraser. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


109 


He seemed very embarrassed and his inarticulateness was more no- 
ticeable than ever. 

Poirot did not press him to come to the point of his visit, but instead 
suggested sandwiches and a glass of wine. 

Until these made their appearance he monopolized the conversation, 
explaining where we had been, and speaking with kindliness and feel- 
ing of the invalid woman. 

Not until we finished the sandwiches and sipped the wine did he 
give the conversation a personal tum. 

“You have come from Bexhill, Mr. Fraser?” 

“Yes.” 

“Any success with Milly Higley?” 

“Milly Higley? Milly Higley?” Fraser repeated the name wonder- 
ingly. “Oh, that girl! No, I haven’t done anything there yet. It’s — ” 

He stopped. His hands twisted themselves together nervously. 

“I don’t know why I’ve come to you,” he burst out. 

“I know,” said Poirot. 

“You can’t. How can you?” 

“You have come to me because there is something that you must tell 
to some one. You were quite right. I am the proper person. Speak!” 

Poirot’s air of assurance had its effect. Fraser looked at him with a 
queer air of grateful obedience. 

“You think so?” 

“ Parbleu , I am sure of it” 

“M. Poirot, do you know anything about dreams?” 

It was the last thing I had expected him to say. 

Poirot, however, seemed in no wise surprised. 

“I do,” he replied. “You have been dreaming — ?” 

“Yes, I suppose you’ll say it’s only natural that I should — should 
dream about — It. But it isn’t an ordinary dream.” 

“No?” 

“I’ve dreamed it now three nights running, sir. ... I think I’m going 
mad. ...” 

“Tell me—” 

The man’s face was livid. His eyes were starting out of his head. As 
a matter of fact, he looked mad. 

“It’s always the same. I’m on the beach. Looking for Betty. She’s 
lost — only lost, you understand. I’ve got to find her. I’ve got to give 
her her belt. I’m carrying it in my hand. And then — •” 

“Yes?” 

‘The dream changes ... I’m not looking any more. She’s there in 



110 AGATHA CHRISTIE 

front of me — sitting on the beach. She doesn’t see me coming — 
It’s — oh, I can’t — •” 

“Go on.” 

Poirot’s voice was authoritative — firm. 

“I come up behind her . . . she doesn’t hear me ... I slip the belt 
round her neck and pull — oh — pull. . . .” 

The agony in his voice was frightful ... I gripped the arms of my 
chair. . . . The thing was too real. 

“She’s choking . . . she’s dead ... I’ve strangled her — and then her 
head falls back and I see her face . . . and it’s Megan — not Betty!” 

He leant back white and shaking. Poirot poured out another glass of 
wine and passed it over to him. 

“What’s the meaning of it, M. Poirot? Why does it come to me? Ev- 
ery night . . . ?” 

“Drink up your wine,” ordered Poirot. 

The young man did so, then he asked in a calmer voice: 

“What does it mean? I — I didn’t kill her, did I?” 

What Poirot answered I do not know, for at that minute I heard the 
postman’s knock and automatically I left the room. 

What I took out of the letter-box banished all my interest in Donald 
Fraser’s extraordinary revelations. 

I raced back into the sitting-room. 

‘"Poirot,” I cried. “It’s come. The fourth letter.” 

He sprang up, seized it from me, caught up his paper-knife and slit it 
open. He spread it out on the table. 

The three of us read it together. 

Still no success? Fie ! Fie ! What are you and the police doing? 

Well , well y isn't this fun? And where shall we go next for honey? 

Poor Mr. Poirot. I'm quite sorry for you. 

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. 

We've a long way to go still. 

Tipperary? No — that comes farther on. Letter T. 

The next little incident will take place at Doncaster on September 

11th. 

So long. 


A.B.C. 



XXI. Description of a Murderer 
V 


It was at this moment, I think, that what Poirot called the human ele- 
ment began to fade out of the picture again. It was as though, the mind 
being unable to stand unadulterated horror, we had had an interval of 
normal human interests. 

We had, one and all, felt the impossibility of doing anything until the 
fourth letter should come revealing the projected scene of the D mur- 
der. That atmosphere of waiting had brought a release of tension. 

But now, with the printed words jeering from the white stiff paper, 
the hunt was up once more. 

Inspector Crome had come round from the Yard, and while he was 
still there, Franklin Clarke and Megan Barnard came in. 

The girl explained that she, too, had come up from Bexhill. 

“I wanted to ask Mr. Clarke something.” 

She seemed rather anxious to excuse and explain her procedure. I 
just noted the fact without attaching much importance to it. 

The letter naturally filled my mind to the exclusion of all else. 

Crome was not, I think, any too pleased to see the various partici- 
pants in the drama. He became extremely official and non-committal. 

“I’ll take this with me, M. Poirot. If you care to take a copy of it — ” 

“No, no, it is not necessary.” 

“What are your plans, inspector?” asked Clarke. 

“Fairly comprehensive ones, Mr. Clarke.” 

“This time we’ve got to get him,” said Clarke. “I may tell you, in- 

111 



112 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


spector, that we’ve formed an association of our own to deal with the 
matter. A legion of interested parties.” 

Inspector Crome said in his best manner: 

“Oh, yes?” 

“I gather you don’t think much of amateurs, inspector?” 

“You’ve hardly the same resources at your command, have you, Mr. 
Clarke?” 

“We’ve got a personal axe to grind — and that’s something.” 

“Oh, yes?” 

“I fancy your own task isn’t going to be too easy, inspector. In fact, I 
rather fancy old A.B.C. has done you again.” 

Crome, I had noticed, could often be goaded into speech when other 
methods would have failed. 

“I don’t fancy the public will have much to criticize in our arrange- 
ments this time,” he said. “The fool has given us ample warning this 
time. The 11th isn’t till Wednesday of next week. That gives ample 
time for a publicity campaign in the press. Doncaster will be thor- 
oughly warned Every soul whose name begins with a D will be on his 
or her guard — that’s so much to the good. Also, we’ll draft police into 
the town on a fairly large scale. That’s already been arranged for by 
consent of all the Chief Constables in England. The whole of 
Doncaster, police and civilians, will be out to catch one man — and 
with reasonable luck, we ought to get him!” 

Clarke said quietly: 

“It’s easy to see you’re not a sporting man, inspector.” 

Crome stared at him. 

“What do you mean, Mr. Clarke?” 

“Man alive, don’t you realize that on next Wednesday the St. Leger 
is being run at Doncaster ?” 

The inspector’s jaw dropped. For the life of him he could not bring 
out the familiar “Oh, yes?” Instead he said: 

“That’s true. Yes, that complicates matters ” 

“A.B.C. is no fool, even if he is a madman.” 

We were all silent for a minute or two, taking in the situation. The 
crowds on the race-course — the passionate, sport-loving English 
public — the endless complications. 

Poirot murmured: 

“C’est ingenieux. Tout de mime c’est bien imagine , fa. ” 

“It’s my belief,” said Clarke, “that the murder will take place on the 
race-course — perhaps actually while the Leger is being run.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


113 


For the moment his sporting instincts took a momentary pleasure in 
the thought 

Inspector Crome rose, taking the letter with him. 

‘‘The St. Leger is a complication,” he allowed. “It’s unfortunate.” 

He went out. We heard a murmur of voices in the hallway. A minute 
later Thora Grey entered. 

She said anxiously: 

“The inspector told me there is another letter. Where this time?” 

It was raining outside. Thora Grey was wearing a black coat and 
skirt and furs. A little black hat just perched itself on the side of her 
golden head. 

It was to Franklin Clarke that she spoke and she came right up to 
him and, with a hand on his arm, waited for his answer. 

“Doncaster — and on the day of the St. Leger.” 

We settled down to a discussion. It went without saying that we all 
intended to be present, but the race-meeting undoubtedly complicated 
the plans we had made tentatively beforehand. 

A feeling of discouragement swept over me. What could this little 
band of six people do, after all, however strong their personal interest 
in the matter might be? There would be innumerable police, keen-eyed 
and alert, watching all likely spots. What could six more pairs of eyes 
do? 

As though in answer to my thought, Poirot raised his voice. He 
spoke rather like a schoolmaster or a priest. 

“Mes enfants, ” he said, “we must not disperse the strength. We must 
approach this matter with method and order in our thoughts. We must 
look within and not without for the truth. We must say to ourselves — 
each one of us — what do / know about the murderer? And so we must 
build up a composite picture of the man we are going to seek.” 

“We know nothing about him,” sighed Thora Grey helplessly. 

“No, no, mademoiselle. That is not true. Each one of us knows 
something about him — if we only knew what it is we know. I am con- 
vinced that the knowledge is there if we could only get at it.” 

Clarke shook his head. 

“We don't know anything — whether he's old or young, fair or dark! 
None of us has even seen him or spoken to him! We’ve gone over ev- 
erything we all know again and again.” 

“Not eveiy thing! For instance, Miss Grey here told us that she did 
not see or speak to any stranger on the day that Sir Carmichael Clarke 
was murdered.” 

Thora Grey nodded. 



114 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


‘That’s quite right.” 

“Is it? Lady Clarke told us , mademoiselle, that from her window she 
saw you standing on the front door step talking to a man” 

“She saw me talking to a strange man?” The girl seemed genuinely 
astonished. Surely that pure, limpid look could not be anything but 
genuine. 

She shook her head. 

“Lady Clarke must have made a mistake. I never — Oh!” 

The exclamation came suddenly — jerked out of her. A crimson 
wave flooded her cheeks. 

“I remember now! How stupid! I’d forgotten all about it. But it 
wasn’t important. Just one of those men who come round selling 
stockings — you know, ex-Army people. They’re very persistent. I had 
to get rid of him. I was just crossing the hall when he came to the door. 
He spoke to me instead of ringing but he was quite a harmless sort of 
person. I suppose that’s why I forgot about him.” 

Poirot was swaying to and fro, his hands clasped to his head. He was 
muttering to himself with such vehemence that nobody else said any- 
thing, but stared at him instead. 

“Stockings,” he was murmuring. “Stockings . . . stockings . . . 
stockings . . . ga vient . . . stockings . . . stockings ... It is the motif- 
yes . . . three months ago . . . and the other day . . . and now. Bon Dieu, 
I have it!” 

He sat upright and fixed me with an imperious eye. 

“You remember, Hastings? Andover. The shop. We go upstairs. The 
bedroom. On a chair. A pair of new silk stockings . And now I know 
what it was that roused my attention two days ago. It was you, 
mademoiselle — ” He turned on Megan. “You spoke of your mother 
who wept because she had bought your sister some new stockings on 
the very day of the murder . ...” 

He looked round on us all. 

“You see? It is the same motif three times repeated. That cannot be 
coincidence. When mademoiselle spoke I had the feeling that what she 
said linked up with something. I know now with what. The words spo- 
ken by Mrs. Ascher’s next-door neighbour, Mrs. Fowler. About people 
who were always trying to sell you things — and she mentioned stock- 
ings. Tell me, mademoiselle, it is true, is it not, that your mother 
bought those stockings, not at a shop, but from some one who came to 
the door?” 

“Yes — yes — she did ... I remember now. She said something about 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


115 


being sorry for these wretched men who go round and try to get or- 
ders.” 

“But what’s the connection?” cried Franklin. “That a man came 
selling stockings proves nothing!” 

“I tell you, my friends, it cannot be coincidence. Three crimes — and 
every time a man selling stockings and spying out the land.” 

He wheeled round on Thora. 

“A vous la parole / Describe this man .” 

She looked at him blankly. 

“I can’t ... I don’t know how ... He had glasses, I think . . . and a 
shabby overcoat ” 

“Mieuxque ga, mademoiselle. " 

“He stooped ... I don’t know. I hardly looked at him. He wasn’t the 
sort of man you’d notice. . . 

Poirot said gravely: 

“You are quite right, mademoiselle. The whole secret of the murders 
lies there in your description of the murderer — for without a doubt he 
was the murderer! *He wasn't the sort of man you'd notice.' Yes — 
there is no doubt about it You have described the murderer!” 



XXII. (Not from Captain Hostings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust sat very still. His breakfast lay cold and 
untasted on his plate. A newspaper was propped up against the teapot 
and it was this newspaper that Mr. Cust was reading with avid interest. 

Suddenly he got up, paced to and fro for a minute, then sank into a 
chair by the window. He buried his head in his hands with a stifled 
groan. 

He did not hear the sound of the opening door. His landlady, Mrs. 
Marbury, stood in the doorway. 

“I was wondering, Mr. Cust, if you’d fancy a nice — why, whatever 
is it? Aren’t you feeling well?” 

Mr. Cust raised his head from his hands. 

“Nothing. It’s nothing at all, Mrs. Marbury. I’m not — feeling very 
well this morning.” 

Mrs. Marbury inspected the breakfast tray. 

. “So I see. You haven’t touched your breakfast. Is it your head trou- 
bling you again?” 

“No. At least, yes . . . I — I just feel a bit out of sorts.” 

“Well, I’m sorry. I’m sure. You’ll not be going away to-day then?” 

Mr. Cust sprang up abruptly. 

“No, no. I have to go. It’s business. Important. Very important.” 

His hands were shaking. Seeing him so agitated, Mrs. Marbury tried 
to soothe him. 

“Weil, if you must — you must. Going far this time?” 

116 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


117 


“No. I’m going to” — he hesitated for a minute or two — 
“Cheltenham.” 

There was something so peculiar about the tentative way he said the 
word that Mrs. Marbury looked at him in surprise. 

“Cheltenham’s a nice place,” she said conversationally. “I went 
there from Bristol one year. The shops are ever so nice.” 

“I suppose so — yes.” 

Mrs. Marbuiy stooped rather stiffly — for stooping did not suit her 
figure — to pick up the paper that was lying crumpled on the floor. 

“Nothing but this murdering business in the papers nowadays,” she 
said as she glanced at the headlines before putting it back on the table. 
“Gives me the creeps, it does. I don’t read it. It’s like Jack the Ripper 
all over again.” 

Mr. Cust’s lips moved, but no sound came from them. 

“Doncaster — that’s the place he’s going to do his next murder,” said 
Mrs. Marbury. “And to-morrow! Fairly makes your flesh creep, 
doesn’t it? If I lived in Doncaster and my name began with a D, I’d 
take the first train away, that I would. I’d run no risks. What did you 
say, Mr. Cust?” 

“Nothing, Mrs. Marbury — nothing.” 

“It’s the races and all. No doubt he thinks he’ll get his opportunity 
there. Hundreds of police, they say, they’re drafting in and — Why, Mr. 
Cust, you do look bad. Hadn’t you better have a little drop of some- 
thing? Really, now, you oughtn’t to go travelling to-day.” 

Mr. Cust drew himself up. 

“It is necessary, Mrs. Marbury. I have always been punctual in my — 
engagements. People must have — must have confidence in you! When 
I have undertaken to do a thing, I carry it through. It is the only way to 
get on in — in — business.” 

“But if you’re ill?” 

“I am not ill, Mrs. Marbury. Just a little worried over — various per- 
sonal matters. I slept badly. I am really quite all right.” 

His manner was so firm that Mrs. Marbury gathered up the breakfast 
things and reluctantly left the room. 

Mr. Cust dragged out a suitcase from under the bed and began to 
pack. Pyjamas, sponge-bag, spare collar, leather slippers. Then un- 
locking a cupboard, he transferred a dozen or so flattish cardboard 
boxes about ten inches by seven from a shelf to the suitcase. 

He just glanced at the railway guide on the table and then left the 
room, suitcase in hand. 

Setting it down in the hall, he put on his hat and overcoat. As he did 



118 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


so he sighed deeply, so deeply that the girl who came out from a room 
at the side looked at him in concern. 

“Anything the matter, Mr. Cust?” 

“Nothing, Miss Lily.” 

“You were sighing so!” 

Mr. Cust said abruptly: 

“Are you at all subject to premonitions. Miss Lily? To presenti- 
ments?” 

“Well, I don’t know that I am, really. ... Of course, there are days 
when you just feel everything’s going wrong, and days when you feel 
everything’s going right.” 

“Quite,” said Mr. Cust. 

He sighed again. 

“Well, good-bye, Miss Lily. Good-bye. I’m sure you’ve been very 
kind to me always here.” 

“Well, don’t say good-bye as though you were going away for ever,” 
laughed Lily. 

“No, no, of course not.” 

“See you Friday,” laughed the girl. “Where are you going this time? 
Seaside again?” 

“No, no — er — Cheltenham.” 

“Well, that’s nice, too. But not quite as nice as Torquay. That must 
have been lovely. I want to go there for my holiday next year. By the 
way, you must have been quite near where the murder was — the 
A.B.C. murder. It happened while you were down there, didn’t it?” 

“Er — yes. But Churston’s six or seven miles away.” 

“All the same, it must have been exciting! Why, you may have 
passed the murderer in the street! You may have been quite near to 
him!” 

“Yes, I may, of course,” said Mr. Cust with such a ghastly and con- 
torted smile that Lily Marbury noticed it. 

“Oh, Mr. Cust, you don ? look well.” 

“I’m quite all right, quite all right. Good-bye, Miss Marbury.” 

He fumbled to raise his hat, caught up his suitcase and fairly has- 
tened out of the front door. 

“Funny old thing,” said Lily Marbury indulgently. “Looks half batty 
to my mind.” 

Inspector Crome said to his subordinate: 

“Get me out a list of all stocking manufacturing firms and circular- 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


119 


ize them. I want a list of all their agents — you know, fellows who sell 
on commission and tout for orders.” 

“This the A.B.C. case, sir?” 

“Yes. One of Mr. Hercule Poirot’s ideas.” The inspector’s tone was 
disdainful. “Probably nothing in it, but it doesn’t do to neglect any 
:hance, however faint.” 

“Right, sir. Mr. Poirot done some good stuff in his time, but I think 
he’s a bit ga ga now, sir.” 

“He’s a mountebank,” said Inspector Crome. “Always posing. 
Takes in some people. It doesn’t take in me . Now then, about the ar- 
rangement for Doncaster. . . .” 

Tom Hartigan said to Lily Marbury: 

“Saw your old dugout this morning.” 

“Who? Mr. Cust?” 

“Cust it was. At Euston. Looking like a lost hen, as usual. I think 
the fellow’s half a loony. He needs some one to look after him. First he 
dropped his paper and then he dropped his ticket. I picked that up — he 
hadn’t the faintest idea he’d lost it. Thanked me in an agitated sort of 
manner, but I don’t think he recognized me.” 

“Oh, well,” said Lily. “He’s only seen you passing in the hall, and 
not very often at that.” 

They danced once round the floor. 

“You dance something beautiful,” said Tom. 

“Go on,” said Lily and wriggled yet a little closer. 

They danced round again. 

“Did you say Euston or Paddington?” asked Lily abruptly. “Where 
you saw old Cust, I mean?” 

“Euston.” 

“Are you sure?” 

“Of course I’m sure. What do you think?” 

“Funny. I thought you went to Cheltenham from Paddington.” 

“So you do. But old Cust wasn’t going to Cheltenham. He was go- 
ing to Doncaster.” 

“Cheltenham.” 

“Doncaster. I know, my girl! After all, I picked up his ticket, didn’t 
I?” 

“Well, he told me he was going to Cheltenham. I’m sure he did.” 

“Oh, you’ve got it wrong. He was going to Doncaster all right. 
Some people have all the luck. I’ve got a bit on Firefly for the Leger 
and I’d love to see it run.” 



120 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“I shouldn’t think Mr. Cust went to race-meetings; he doesn’t look 
the kind. Oh, Tom, I hope he won’t get murdered. It’s Doncaster the 
A.B.C. murder’s going to be.” 

“Cust’U be all right. His name doesn’t begin with a D.” 

“He might have been murdered last time. He was down near 
Churston at Torquay when the last murder happened.” 

“Was he? That’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it?” 

He laughed. 

“He wasn’t at Bexhill the time before, was he?” 

Lily crinkled her brows. 

“He was away Yes, I remember he was away . . . because he for- 
got his bathing-dress. Mother was mending it for him. And she said: 
‘There — Mr. Cust went away yesterday without his bathing-dress after 
all,’ and I said: ‘Oh, never mind the old bathing-dress — there’s been 
the most awful murder,’ I said, ‘a girl strangled at Bexhill.’ ” 

“Well, if he wanted his bathing-dress, he must have been going to 
the seaside. I say, Lily” — his face crinkled up with amusement. “What 
price your old dugout being the murderer himself?” 

“Poor Mr. Cust? He wouldn’t hurt a fly,” laughed Lily. 

They danced on happily — in their conscious minds nothing but the 
pleasure of being together. 

In their unconscious minds something stirred 



XXIII. September 1 1 th. 
Doncaster 


V 


Doncaster! 

I shall, I think, remember that 1 1th of September all my life. 

Indeed, whenever I see a mention of the St. Leger my mind flies au- 
tomatically not to horse-racing but to murder. 

When I recall my own sensations, the thing that stands out most is a 
sickening sense of insufficiency. We were here — on the spot — Poirot, 
myself, Clarke, Fraser, Megan Barnard, Thora Grey and Mary Drower, 
and in the last resort what could any of us do ? 

We were building on a forlorn hope — on the chance of recognizing 
amongst a crowd of thousands of people a face or figure imperfectly 
seen on an occasion one, two or three months back. 

The odds were in reality greater than that. Of us all, the only person 
likely to make such a recognition was Thora Grey. 

Some of her serenity had broken down under the strain. Her calm, 
efficient manner was gone. She sat twisting her hands together, almost 
weeping, appealing incoherently to Poirot. 

“I never really looked at him Why didn’t I? What a fool I was. 

You’re depending on me, all of you . . . and I shall let you down. Be- 
cause even if I did see him again I mightn’t recognize him. I’ve got a 
bad memory for faces.” 

Poirot, whatever he might say to me, and however harshly he might 
seem to criticize the girl, showed nothing but kindness now. His man- 

121 



122 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


ner was tender in the extreme. It struck me that Poirot was no more in- 
different to beauty in distress than I was. 

He patted her shoulder kindly. 

“Now then, petite, not the hysteria. We cannot have that. If you 
should see this man you would recognize him.” 

“How do you know?” 

“Oh, a great many reasons — for one, because the red succeeds the 
black.” 

“What do you mean, Poirot?” I cried. 

“I speak the language of the tables. At roulette there may be a long 
run on the black — but in the end red must turn up. It is the mathemati- 
cal laws of chance ” 

“You mean that luck turns?” 

“Exactly, Hastings. And that is where the gambler (and the mur- 
derer, who is, after all, only a supreme kind of gambler since what he 
risks is not his money but his life) often lacks intelligent anticipation. 
Because he has won he thinks he will continue to win! He does not 
leave the tables in good time with his pockets full. So in crime the mur- 
derer who is successful cannot conceive the possibility of not being 
successful ! He takes to himself all the credit for a successful 
performance — but I tell you, my friends, however carefully planned, 
no crime can be successful without luck!” 

“Isn’t that going rather far?” demurred Franklin Clarke. 

Poirot waved his hands excitedly. 

“No, no. It is an even chance, if you like, but it must be in your fa- 
vour. Consider! It might have happened that some one enters Mrs. 
Ascher’s shop just as the murderer is leaving. That person might have 
thought of looking behind the counter, have seen the dead woman — 
and either laid hands on the murderer straight away or else been able to 
give such an accurate description of him to the police that he would 
have been arrested forthwith.” 

“Yes, of course, that’s possible,” admitted Clarke. “What it comes to 
is that a murderer’s got to take a chance.” 

“Precisely. A murderer is always a gambler. And, like many gam- 
blers, a murderer often does not know when to stop. With each crime 
his opinion of his own abilities is strengthened. His sense of proportion 
is warped. He does not say, T have been clever and luckyV No, he says 
only, T have been clever!’ And his opinion of his cleverness grows . . . 
and then, mes amis , the ball spins, and the run of colour is over — it 
drops into a new number and the croupier calls out ' Rouged ” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


123 


“You think that will happen in this case?” asked Megan, drawing 
her brows together in a frown. 

“It must happen sooner or later! So far the luck has been with the 
criminal — sooner or later it must turn and be with us. I believe that it 
has turned! The clue of the stockings is the beginning. Now, instead of 
everything going right for him, everything will go wrong for him! And 
he, too, will begin to make mistakes. . . 

“I will say you’re heartening,” said Franklin Clarke. “We all need a 
bit of comfort. I’ve had a paralyzing feeling of helplessness ever since 
I woke up.” 

“It seems to me highly problematical that we can accomplish any- 
thing of practical value,” said Donald Fraser. 

Megan rapped out: 

“Don’t be a defeatist, Don.” 

Mary Drower, flushing up a little, said: 

“What I say is, you never know. That wicked fiend’s in this place, 
and so are we — and after all, you do run up against people in the funni- 
est way sometimes.” 

I fumed: 

“If only we could do something more.” 

“You must remember, Hastings, that the police are doing everything 
reasonably possible. Special constables have been enrolled. The good 
Inspector Crome may have the irritating manner, but he is a very able 
police officer, and Colonel Anderson, the Chief Constable, is a man of 
action. They have taken the fullest measures for watching and patrol- 
ling the town and the race-course. There will be plain clothes men ev- 
erywhere. There is also the press campaign. The public is fully 
warned.” 

Donald Fraser shook his head. 

“He’ll never attempt it, I’m thinking,” he said more hopefully. “The 
man would just be mad!” 

“Unfortunately,” said Clarke dryly, “he is mad! What do you think, 
M. Poirot? Will he give it up or will he try to carry it through?” 

“In my opinion the strength of his obsession is such that he must at- 
tempt to carry out his promise! Not to do so would be to admit failure, 
and that his insane egoism would never allow. That, I may say, is also 
Dr. Thompson’s opinion. Our hope is that he may be caught in the at- 
tempt.” 

Donald shook his head again. 

“He’ll be very cunning.” 

Poirot glanced at his watch. We took the hint. It had been agreed that 



124 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


we were to make an all day session of it, patrolling as many streets as 
possible in the morning, and later, stationing ourselves at various 
likely points on the race-course. 

I say “we.” Of course, in my own case such a patrol was of little 
avail since I was never likely to have set eyes on A.B.C. However, as 
the idea was to separate so as to cover as wide an area as possible I had 
suggested that I should act as escort to one of the ladies. 

Poirot had agreed — I am afraid with somewhat of a twinkle in his 
eye. 

The girls went off to get their hats on. Donald Fraser was standing 
by the window looking out, apparently lost in thought. 

Franklin Clarke glanced over at him, then evidently deciding that 
the other was too abstracted to count as a listener, he lowered his voice 
a little and addressed Poirot. 

“Look here, M. Poirot. You went down to Churston, I know, and 
saw my sister-in-law. Did she say — or hint — I mean — did she suggest 
at all—?” 

He stopped, embarrassed. 

Poirot answered with a face of blank innocence that aroused my 
strongest suspicions. 

“Comment? Did your sister-in-law say, hint or suggest — what?” 

Franklin Clarke got rather red. 

“Perhaps you think this isn’t a time for butting in with personal 
things — ” 

“Du tout!” 

“But I feel I’d like to get things quite straight.” 

“An admirable course.” 

This time I think Clarke began to suspect Poirot’s bland face of con- 
cealing some inner amusement. He ploughed on rather heavily. 

“My sister-in-law’s an awfully nice woman — I’ve been very fond of 
her always — but of course she’s been ill some time — and in that kind 
of illness — being given drugs and all that — one tends to — well, to 
fancy things about people!” 

“Ah?” 

By now there was no mistaking the twinkle in Poirot’s eye. 

But Franklin Clarke, absorbed in his diplomatic task, was past notic- 
ing it. “It’s about Thora — Miss Grey,” he said. 

“Oh, it is of Miss Grey you speak?” Poirot’s tone held innocent 
surprise. 

“Yes. Lady Clarke got certain ideas in her head. You see, Thora — 
Miss Grey is well, rather a good-looking girl — ” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


125 


“Perhaps — yes,” conceded Poirot. 

“And women are, even the best of them, a bit catty about other 
women. Of course, Thora was invaluable to my brother — he always 
said she was the best secretary he ever had — and he was very fond of 
her, too. But it was all perfectly straight and above-board. I mean, 
Thora isn’t the sort of girl — ” 

“No?” said Poirot helpfully. 

“But my sister-in-law got it into her head to be — well — jealous, I 
suppose. Not that she ever showed anything. But after Car’s death, 
when there was a question of Miss Grey staying on — well, Charlotte 
cut up rough. Of course, it’s partly the illness and the morphia and all 
that — Nurse Capstick says so — she says we mustn’t blame Charlotte 
for getting these ideas into her head — ” 

He paused. 

“Yes?” 

“What I want you to understand, M. Poirot, is that there isn’t any- 
thing in it at all. It’s just a sick woman’s imaginings. Look here” — he 
fumbled in his pocket — “here’s a letter I received from my brother 
when I was in the Malay States. I’d like you to read it because it shows 
exactly what terms they were on.” 

Poirot took it. Franklin came over beside him and with a pointing 
finger read some of the extracts out loud. 


— things go on here much as usual Charlotte is moderately free 
from pain. I wish one could say more. You may remember Thora 
Grey? She is a dear girl and a greater comfort to me that I can tell 
you. I should not have known what to do through this bad time but 
for her. Her sympathy and interest are unfailing. She, has an exqui- 
site taste and flair for beautiful things and shares my passion for 
Chinese art I was indeed lucky to find her. No daughter could be a 
closer or more sympathetic companion . Her life had been a difficult 
and not always a happy one , but I am glad to feel that here she has a 
home and a true affection. 

“You see,” said Franklin. “ That’s how my brother felt to her. He 
thought of her like a daughter. What I feel so unfair is the fact that 
the moment my brother is dead, his wife practically turns her out of the 
house! Women really are devils, M. Poirot.” 

“Your sister-in-law is ill and in pain, remember.” 

“I know. That’s what I keep saying to myself. One mustn’t judge 



126 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


her. All the same, I thought Fd show you this. I don’t want you to get a 
false impression of Thora from anything Lady Clarke may have said.” 

Poirot returned the letter. 

“I can assure you,” he said, smiling, “that I never permit myself to 
get false impressions from anything any one tells me. I form my own 
judgments.” 

“Well,” said Clarke, stowing away the letter, “I’m glad I showed it 
to you anyway. Here come the girls. We’d better be off.” 

As we left the room, Poirot called me back. 

“You are determined to accompany the expedition, Hastings?” 

“Oh, yes. I shouldn’t be happy staying here inactive.” 

“There is activity of mind as well as body, Hastings.” 

“Well, you’re better at it than I am,” I said. 

“You are incontestably right, Hastings. Am I correct in supposing 
that you intend to be a cavalier to one of the ladies?” 

“That was the idea.” 

“And which lady did you propose to honour with your company?” 

“Well — I — er — hadn’t considered yet.” 

“What about Miss Barnard?” 

“She’s rather the independent type,” I demurred. 

“Miss Grey?” 

“Yes. She’s better ” 

“I find you, Hastings, singularly though transparently honest! All 
along you had made up your mind to spend the day with your blonde 
angel!” 

“Oh, really, Poirot!” 

“I am sorry to upset your plans, but I must request you to give your 
escort elsewhere.” 

“Oh, all right. I think you’ve got a weakness for that Dutch doll of a 
girl.” 

“The person you are to escort is Mary Drower — and I must request 
you not to leave her.” 

“But, Poirot, why?” 

“Because, my dear friend, her name begins with a D. We must take 
no chances.” 

I saw the justice of his remark. At first it seemed far-fetched. But 
then I realized that if A.B.C. had a fanatical hatred of Poirot, he might 
very well be keeping himself informed of Poirot’s movements. And in 
that case the elimination of Mary Drower might strike him as a very 
neat fourth stroke. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


127 


I promised to be faithful to my trust. 

I went out leaving Poirot sitting in a chair near the window. 

In front of him was a little roulette wheel. He spun it as I went out of 
the door and called after me: 

“ Rouge — that is a good omen, Hastings. The luck, it turns!” 



XXIV. (Not from Captain Hastings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Below his breath Mr. Leadbetter uttered a grunt of impatience as his 
next-door neighbour got up and stumbled clumsily past him, dropping 
his hat over the seat in front, and leaning over to retrieve it. 

All this at the culminating moment of Not a Sparrow , that all-star, 
thrilling drama of pathos and beauty that Mr. Leadbetter had been 
looking forward to seeing for a whole week. 

The golden-haired heroine, played by Katherine Royal (in Mr. 
Leadbetter’s opinion the leading film actress in the world), was just 
giving vent to a hoarse cry of indignation: 

“Never. I would sooner starve. But I shan’t starve. Remember those 
words: not a sparrow falls — ” 

Mr. Leadbetter moved his head irritably from right to left. People! 
Why on earth people couldn’t wait till the end of a film . . . And to 
leave at this soul-stirring moment. 

Ah, that was better. The annoying gentleman had passed on and out. 
Mr. Leadbetter had a full view of the screen and of Katherine Royal 
standing by the window in the Van Schreiner Mansion in New York. 

And now she was boarding the train — the child in her arms 

What curious trains they had in America — not at all like English 
trains. 

Ah, there was Steve again in his shack in the mountains. . . . 

The film pursued its course to its emotional and semi-religious end. 

Mr. Leadbetter breathed a sigh of satisfaction as the lights went up. 

128 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


129 


He rose slowly to his feet, blinking a little. 

He never left the cinema very quickly. It always took him a moment 
or two to return to the prosaic reality of everyday life. 

He glanced round. Not many people this afternoon — naturally. They 
were all at the races. Mr. Leadbetter did not approve of racing or of 
playing cards or of drinking or of smoking. This left him more energy 
to enjoy going to the pictures. 

Every one was hurrying towards the exit. Mr. Leadbetter prepared to 
follow suit. The man in the seat in front of him was asleep — slumped 
down in his chair. Mr. Leadbetter felt indignant to think that any one 
could sleep with such a drama as Not a Sparrow going on. 

An irate gentleman was saying to the sleeping man whose legs were 
stretched out blocking the way: 

“Excuse me , sir.” 

Mr. Leadbetter reached the exit. He looked back. 

There seemed to be some sort of commotion. A commissionaire . . . 

a little knot of people Perhaps that man in front of him was dead 

drunk and not asleep 

He hesitated and then passed out — and in so doing missed the sensa- 
tion of the day — a greater sensation even than Not Half winning the St. 
Leger at 85 to 1. 

The commissionaire was saying: 

“Believe you’re right, sir. . . . He’s ill Why — what’s the matter, 

sir?” 

The other had drawn away his hand with an exclamation and was 
examining a red sticky smear. 

“Blood. . . ” 

The commissionaire gave a stifled exclamation. 

He had caught sight of the comer of something yellow projecting 
from under the seat. 

“Gor blimy!” he said. “It's a b A.B.C . ” 



XXV. (Not from Captain Hastings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Mr. Cust came out of the Regal Cinema and looked up at the sky. 

A beautiful evening A really beautiful evening. . . . 

A quotation from Browning came into his head. 

“God’s in His heaven. All’s right with the world.” 

He had always been fond of that quotation. 

Only there were times, very often, when he had felt it wasn’t 
true 

He trotted along the street smiling to himself until he came to the 
Black Swan where he was staying. 

He climbed the stairs to his bedroom, a stuffy little room on the sec- 
ond floor, giving over a paved inner court and garage. 

As he entered the room, his smile faded suddenly. There was a stain 
on his sleeve near the cuff. He touched it tentatively — wet and red — 
blood 

His hand dipped into his pocket and brought out something — a long, 
slender knife. The blade of that, too, was sticky and red. . . . 

Mr. Cust sat there a long time. 

Once his eyes shot round the room like those of a hunted animal. 

His tongue passed feverishly over his lips. . . . 

“It isn’t my fault,” said Mr. Cust. 

He sounded as though he were arguing with somebody — a school- 
boy pleading to his schoolmaster. 

He passed his tongue over his lips again 

130 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


131 


Again, tentatively, he felt his coat sleeve. 

His eyes crossed the room to the wash-basin. 

A minute later he was pouring out water from the old-fashioned jug 
into the basin. Removing his coat, he rinsed the sleeve, carefully 
squeezing it out. . . . 

Ugh! The water was red now. . . . 

A tap on the door. 

He stood there frozen into immobility — staring. 

The door opened. A plump young woman — jug in hand. 

“Oh, excuse me, sir. Your hot water, sir.” 

He managed to speak then. 

“Thank you I’ve washed in cold ” 

Why had he said that? Immediately her eyes went to the basin. 

He said frenziedly: “I — I’ve cut my hand. . . .” 

There was a pause — yes, surely a very long pause — before she said: 
“Yes, sir.” 

She went out, shutting the door. 

Mr. Cust stood as though turned to stone. 

It had come — at last 

He listened. 

Were there voices — exclamations — feet mounting the stairs? 

He could hear nothing but the beating of his own heart. . . . 

Then, suddenly, from frozen immobility he leaped into activity. 

He slipped on his coat, tiptoed to the door and opened it. No noise as 
yet except the familiar murmur arising from the bar. He crept down the 
stairs. . . . 

Still no one. That was luck. He paused at the foot of the stairs. 
Which way now? 

He made up his mind, darted quickly along a passage and out by the 
door that gave into the yard. A couple of chauffeurs were there tinker- 
ing with cars and discussing winners and losers. 

Mr. Cust hurried across the yard and out into the street. 

Round the first comer to the right — then to the left — right again 

Dare he risk the station? 

Yes — there would be crowds there — special trains — if luck were on 
his side he would do it all right 

If only luck were with him 



XXVI. (Not from Captain Hostings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Inspector Crome was listening to the excited utterances of Mr. 
Leadbetter. 

“I assure you, inspector, my heart misses a beat when I think of it. 
He must actually have been sitting beside me all through the pro- 
gramme!” 

Inspector Crome, completely indifferent to the behaviour of Mr. 
Leadbetter’s heart, said: 

“Just let me have it quite clear. This man went out towards the close 
of the big picture — ” 

“ Not a Sparrow — Katherine Royal,” murmured Mr. Leadbetter au- 
tomatically. 

“He passed you and in doing so stumbled — •” 

“He pretended to stumble, I see it now. Then he leaned over the seat 
in front to pick up his hat. He must have stabbed the poor fellow then.” 

“You didn’t hear anything? A cry? Or a groan?” 

Mr. Leadbetter had heard nothing but the loud, hoarse accents of 
Katherine Royal, but in the vividness of his imagination he invented a 
groan. 

Inspector Crome took the groan at its face value and bade him pro- 
ceed. 

“And then he went out — ” 

“Can you describe him?” 

“He was a very big man. Six foot at least. A giant.” 

132 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


133 


“Fair or dark?” 

“I — well — I’m not exactly sure. I think he was bald. A sinister- 
looking fellow.” 

“He didn’t limp, did he?” asked Inspector Crome. 

“Yes — -yes, now you come to speak of it I think he did limp. Very 
dark, he might have been some kind of half-caste.” 

“Was he in his seat the last time the lights came up?” 

“No. He came in after the big picture began.” 

Inspector Crome nodded, handed Mr. Leadbetter a statement to sign 
and got rid of him. 

“That’s about as bad a witness as you’ll Find,” he remarked pessi- 
mistically. “He’d say anything with a little leading. It’s perfectly clear 
that he hasn’t the faintest idea what our man looks like. Let’s have the 
commissionaire back.” 

The commissionaire, very stiff and military, came in and stood to at- 
tention, his eyes fixed on Colonel Anderson. 

“Now, then, Jameson, let’s hear your story.” 

Jameson saluted. 

“Yes, sir. Close of the performance, sir, I was told there was a gen- 
tleman taken ill, sir. Gentleman was in the two and fourpennies, 
slumped down in his seat like. Other gentlemen standing around. 
Gentleman looked bad to me, sir. One of the gentlemen standing by 
put his hand to the ill gentleman’s coat and drew my attention. Blood, 
sir. It was clear the gentleman was dead — stabbed, sir. My attention 
was drawn to an A.B.C. railway guide, sir, under the seat. Wishing to 
act correctly, I did not touch same, but reported to the police immedi- 
ately that a tragedy had occurred.” 

“Very good, Jameson, you acted very properly.” 

‘Thank you, sir.” 

“Did you notice a man leaving the two and fourpennies about five 
minutes earlier?” 

“There were several, sir.” 

“Could you describe them?” 

“Afraid not, sir. One was Mr. Geoffrey Parnell. And there was a 
young fellow, Sam Baker, with his young lady. I didn’t notice anybody 
else particular.” 

“A pity. That’U do, Jameson.” 

“Yes, sir.” 

The commissionaire saluted and departed. 



134 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“The medical details we’ve got,” said Colonel Anderson. “We’d 
better have the fellow that found him next.” 

A police constable came in and saluted. 

“Mr. Hercule Poirot’s here, sir, and another gentleman.” 

Inspector Crome frowned. 

“Oh,* well,” he said. “Better have ’em in, I suppose.” 



XXVII. The Doncaster Murder 


V 


Coming in hard on Poirot’s heels, I just caught the fag end of Inspector 
Crome’s remark. 

Both he and the Chief Constable were looking worried and de- 
pressed. 

Colonel Anderson greeted us with a nod of the head. 

“Glad you’ve come, Mr. Poirot,” he said politely. I think he guessed 
that Crome’s remark might have reached our ears. “We’ve got it in the 
neck again, you see.” 

“Another A.B.C. murder?” 

“Yes. Damned audacious bit of work. Man leaned over and stabbed 
the fellow in the back.” 

“Stabbed this time?” 

“Yes, varies his methods a bit, doesn’t he? Biff on the head, stran- 
gling, now a knife. Versatile devil — what? Here are the medical details 
if you care to see ’em.” 

He shoved a paper towards Poirot. 

“A.B.C. down on the floor between the dead man’s feet,” he added. 

“Has the dead man been identified?” asked Poirot. 

“Yes. A.B.C.’s slipped up for once — if that’s any satisfaction to us. 
Deceased’s a man called Earlsfield — George Earlsfield. Barber by pro- 
fession.” 

“Curious,” commented Poirot. 

“May have skipped a letter,” suggested the Colonel. 

135 



136 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


My friend shook his head doubtfully. 

“Shall we have in the next witness?” asked Crotne. He s anxious to 
get home.” 

“Yes, yes — let’s get on.” 

A middle-aged gentleman strongly resembling the frog footman in 
Alice in Wonderland was led in. He was highly excited and his voice 
was shrill with emotion. 

“Most shocking experience I have ever known,” he squeaked. “I 
have a weak heart, sir — a very weak heart; it might have been the death 
of me.” 

“Your name, please,” said the inspector. 

“Downes. Roger Emmanuel Downes.” 

“Profession?” 

“I am a master at Highfield School for boys.” 

“Now, Mr. Downes, will you tell us in your own words what hap- 
pened.” 

“I can tell you that very shortly, gentlemen. At the close of the per- 
formance I rose from my seat. The seat on my left was empty but in the 
one beyond a man was sitting, apparently asleep. I was unable to pass 
him to get out as his legs were stuck out in front of him. I asked him to 
allow me to pass. As he did not move I repeated my request in— a— 
er — slightly louder tone. He still made no response. I then took him by 
the shoulder to waken him. His body slumped down further and I be- 
came aware that he was either unconscious or seriously ill. I called out: 
‘This gentleman is taken ill. Fetch the commissionaire.’ The commis- 
sionaire came. As I took my hand from the man’s shoulder I found it 

was wet and red I realized that the map had been stabbed. At the 

same moment the commissionaire noticed the A.B.C. railway 
guide. ... I can assure you, gentlemen, the shock was terrific! Any- 
thing might have happened! For years I have suffered from cardiac 
weakness — ” 

Colonel Anderson was looking at Mr. Downes with a very curious 
expression. 

“You can consider that you’re a lucky man, Mr. Downes.” 

“1 do, sir. Not even a palpitation!” 

“You don’t quite take my meaning, Mr. Downes. You were sitting 
two seats away, you say?” 

“Actually I was sitting at first in the next seat to the murdered 
man — then I moved along so as to be behind an empty seat.” 

“You’re about the same height and build as the dead man, aren’t 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


137 


you, and you were wearing a woollen scarf round your neck just as he 
was?” 

“I fail to see — •” began Mr. Downes stiffly. 

“I’m telling you, man,” said Colonel Anderson, “just where your 
luck came in. Somehow or other, when the murderer followed you in, 
he got confused. He picked on the wrong back. I’ll eat my hat, Mr. 
Downes, if that knife wasn’t meant for you!” 

However well Mr. Downes’ heart had stood former tests, it was un- 
able to stand up to this one. Mr. Downes sank on a chair, gasped, and 
turned purple in the face. 

“Water,” he gasped. “Water. . . .” 

A glass was brought him. He sipped it whilst his complexion gradu- 
ally returned to normal. 

“Me?” he said. “Why me?” 

“It looks like it,” said Crome. “In fact, it’s the only explanation.” 

“You mean that this man — this — this fiend incarnate — this 
blood-thirsty madman has been following me about waiting for an op- 
portunity?” 

“I should say that was the way of it.” 

“But in heaven’s name, why me ?” demanded the outraged school- 
master. 

Inspector Crome struggled with the temptation to reply: “Why not?” 
and said instead: “I’m afraid it’s no good expecting a lunatic to have 
reasons for what he does.” 

“God bless my soul,” said Mr. Downes, sobered into whispering. 

He got up. He looked suddenly old and shaken. 

“If you don’t want me any more, gentlemen, I think I’ll go home. 
I — I don’t feel very well.” 

“That’s quite all right, Mr. Downes. I’ll send a constable with you — 
just to see you’re all right.” 

“Oh, no — no, thank you. That’s not necessary.” 

“Might as well,” said Colonel Anderson gruffly. 

His eyes slid sideways, asking an imperceptible question of the in- 
spector. The latter gave an equally imperceptible nod. 

Mr. Downes went out shakily. 

“Just as well he didn’t tumble to it,” said Colonel Anderson. 
“There’ll be a couple of them — eh?” 

“Yes, sir. Your Inspector Rice has made arrangements. The house 
will be watched.” 

“You think,” said Poirot, “that when A.B.C. finds out his mistake he 
might try again?” 



138 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


Anderson nodded. 

“It’s a possibility,” he said. “Seems a methodical sort of chap, 
A.B.C. It will upset him if things don’t go according to programme.” 

Poirot nodded thoughtfully. 

“Wish we could get a description of the fellow,” said Colonel 
Anderson irritably. “We’re as much in the dark as ever.” 

“It may come,” said Poirot. 

“Think so? Well, it’s possible. Damn it all, hasn’t any one got eyes 
in his head?” 

“Have patience,” said Poirot. 

“You seem very confident, M. Poirot. Got any reason for this opti- 
mism?” 

“Yes, Colonel Anderson. Up to now, the murderer has not made a 
mistake. He is bound to make one soon.” 

“If that’s all you’ve got to go on,” began the Chief Constable with a 
snort, but he was interrupted. 

“Mr. Ball of the Black Swan is here with a young woman, sir. He 
reckons he’s got summat to say might help you.” 

“Bring them along. Bring them along. We can do with anything 
helpful.” 

Mr. Ball of the Black Swan was a large, slow-thinking, heavily- 
moving man. He exhaled a strong odour of beer. With him was a plump 
young woman with round eyes clearly in a state of high excitement. 

“Hope I’m not intruding or wasting valuable time,” said Mr. Ball in 
a slow, thick voice. “But this wench, Mary here, reckons she’s got 
something to tell as you ought to know.” 

Mary giggled in a half-hearted way. 

“Well, my girl, what is it?” said Anderson. “What’s your name?” 

“Mary, sir — Mary Stroud.” 

“Well, Mary, out with it.” 

Mary turned her round eyes on her master. 

“It’s her business to take up hot water to the gents’ bedrooms,” said 
Mr. Ball, coming to the rescue. “About half a dozen gentlemen we’d 
got staying. Some for the races and some just commercials.” 

“Yes, yes,” said Anderson impatiently. 

“Get on, lass,” said Mr. Ball. ‘Tell your tale. Now! to be afraid of.” 

Mary gasped, groaned and plunged in a breathless voice into her 
narrative. 

“I knocked on door and there wasn’t no answer, otherwise I 
wouldn’t have gone in leastways not unless gentleman had said ‘Come 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


139 


in,’ and as he didn’t say nothing I went in and he was there washing his 
hands.” 

She paused and breathed deeply. 

“Go on, my girl,” said Anderson. 

Mary looked sideways at her master and as though receiving inspi- 
ration from his slow nod, plunged on again. 

“ ‘It’s your hot water, sir,’ I said, ‘and I did knock,’ but ‘Oh,’ he 
says, ‘I’ve washed in cold,’ he said, and so, naturally, I looks in basin, 
and oh! God help me, sir, it were all redr 

“Red?” said Anderson sharply. 

Ball struck in. 

“The lass told me that he had his coat off and that he was holding the 
sleeve of it, and it was all wet — that’s right, eh, lass?” 

“Yes, sir, that’s right, sir.” 

She plunged on: 

“And his face, sir, it looked queer, mortal queer it looked. Gave me 
quite a turn.” 

“When was this?” asked Anderson sharply. 

“About a quarter after five, so near as I can reckon.” 

“Over three hours ago,” snapped Anderson. “Why didn’t you come 
at once?” 

“Didn’t hear about it at once,” said Ball. “Not till news came along 
as there’ d been another murder done. And then the lass she screams 
out as it might have been blood in the basin, and I asked her what she 
means, and she tells me. Well, it doesn’t sound right to me and I went 
upstairs myself. Nobody in the room. I asks a few questions and one of 
the lads in courtyard says he saw a fellow sneaking out that way and by 
his description it was the right one. So I says to the missus as Mary 
here had best go to police. She doesn’t like the idea, Mary doesn’t, and 
I says I’ll come along with her.” 

Inspector Crome drew a sheet of paper towards him. 

“Describe this man,” he said. “As quick as you can. There’s no time 
to be lost.” 

“Medium-sized, he were,” said Mary. “And stooped and wore glas- 
ses.” 

“His clothes?” 

“A dark suit and a Homburg hat. Rather shabby-looking.” 

She could add little to this description. 

Inspector Crome did not insist unduly. The telephone wires were 
soon busy, but neither the inspector nor the Chief Constable were over- 
optimistic. 



140 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


Crome elicited the fact that the man, when seen sneaking across the 
yard, had had no bag or suitcase. 

“There’s a chance there,” he said. 

Two men were dispatched to the Black Swan. 

Mr. Ball, swelling with pride and importance, and Mary, somewhat 
tearful, accompanied them. 

The sergeant returned about ten minutes later. 

“I’ve brought the register, sir,” he said. “Here’s the signature.” 

We crowded round. The writing was small and cramped — not easy 
to read. 

“A.B.Case — or is it Cash?” said the Chief Constable. 

“A.B.C. said Crome significantly. 

“What about luggage?” asked Anderson. 

“One good-sized suitcase, sir, full of small cardboard boxes.” 
“Boxes? What was in 'em?” 

“Stockings, sir. Silk stockings.” 

Crome turned to Poirot. 

“Congratulations,” he said. “Your hunch was right.” 



XXVIII. (Not from Captain Hostings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Inspector Crome was in his office at Scotland Yard. 

The telephone on his desk gave a discreet buzz and he picked it up. 

“Jacobs speaking, sir. There’s a young fellow come in with a story 
that I think you ought to hear.” 

Inspector Crome sighed. On an average twenty people a day turned 
up with so-called important information about the A.B.C. case. Some 
of them were harmless lunatics, some of them were well-meaning per- 
sons who genuinely believed that their information was of value. It 
was the duty of Sergeant Jacobs to act as a human sieve — retaining the 
grosser matter and passing on the residue to his superior. 

“Very well, Jacobs,” said Crome. “Send him along.” 

A few minutes later there was a tap on the inspector’s door and Ser- 
geant Jacobs appeared, ushering in a tall, moderately good-looking 
young man. 

“This is Mr. Tom Hartigan, sir. He’s got something to tell us which 
may have a possible bearing on the A.B.C. case.” 

The inspector rose pleasantly and shook hands. 

“Good-morning, Mr. Hartigan. Sit down, won’t you? Smoke? Have 
a cigarette?” 

Tom Hartigan sat down awkwardly and looked with some awe at 
what he called in his own mind “one of the bigwigs.” The appearance 
of the inspector vaguely disappointed him. He looked quite an ordi- 
nary person! 


141 



142 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Now then” said Crome. “You’ve got something to tell us that you 
think may have a bearing on the case. Fire ahead.” 

Tom began nervously. 

“Of course it may be nothing at all. It’s just an idea of mine. I may 
be wasting your time.” 

Again, Inspector Crome sighed imperceptibly. The amount of time 
he had to waste in reassuring people! 

“We’re the best judge of that. Let’s have the facts, Mr. Hartigan.” 

“Well, it’s like this, sir. I’ve got a young lady, you see, and her 
mother lets rooms. Up Camden Town way. Their second floor back has 
been let for over a year to a man called Cust.” 

“Cust— eh?” 

“That’s right, sir. A sort of middle-aged bloke what’s rather vague 
and soft — and come down in the world a bit, I should say. Sort of crea- 
ture who wouldn’t hurt a fly, you’d say — and I’d never of dreamed of 
anything being wrong if it hadn’t been for something rather odd.” 

In a somewhat confused manner and repeating himself once or 
twice, Tom described his encounter with Mr. Cust at Euston Station 
and the incident of the dropped ticket. 

“You see, sir, look at it how you will, it’s funny like. Lily, that’s my 
young lady, sir — she was quite positive that it was Cheltenham he said, 
and her mother says the same — says she remembers distinct talking 
about it the morning he went off. Of course, I didn’t pay much atten- 
tion to it at the time. Lily — my young lady said as how she hoped he 
wouldn’t cop it for this A.B.C. fellow going to Doncaster — and then 
she says it’s rather a coincidence because he was down Churston way 
at the time of the last crime. Laughing like, I asks her whether he was 
at Bexhill the time before, and she says she don’t know where he was, 
but he was away at the seaside — that she does know. And then I said to 
her it would be odd if he was the A.B.C. himself and she said poor Mr. 
Cust wouldn’t hurt a fly — and that was all at the time. We didn’t think 
no more about it. At least, in a sort of way I did, sir, underneath like. I 
began wondering about this Cust fellow and thinking that, after all, 
harmless as he seemed, he might be a bit batty.” 

Tom took a breath and then went on. Inspector Crome was listening 
intently now. 

“And then after the Doncaster murder, sir, it was in all the papers 
that information was wanted as to the whereabouts of a certain A.B. 
Case or Cash, and it gave a description that fitted well enough. First 
evening off I had, I went round to Lily’s and asked her what her Mr. 
Cust’s initials were. She couldn’t remember at first, but her mother did. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


143 


Said they were A.B. right enough. Then we got down to it and tried to 
figure out if Cust had been away at the time of the first murder at An- 
dover. Well, as you know, sir, it isn’t too easy to remember things three 
months back. We had a job of it, but we got it fixed down in the end, 
because Mrs. Marbury had a brother come from Canada to see her on 
June 21st. He arrived unexpected like and she wanted to give him a 
bed, and Lily suggested that as Mr. Cust was away Bert Marbury might 
have his bed. But Mrs. Marbury wouldn’t agree, because she said it 
wasn’t acting right by her lodger, and she always liked to act fair and 
square. But we fixed the date all right because of Bert Marbury’s ship 
docking at Southampton that day.” 

Inspector Crome had listened very attentivelyjotting down an occa- 
sional note. 

“That’s all?” he asked. 

“That’s all, sir. I hope you don’t think I’m making a lot of nothing.” 

Tom flushed slightly. 

“Not at all. You were quite right to come here. Of course, it’s very 
slight evidence — these dates may be mere coincidence and the like- 
ness of the name, too. But it certainly warrants my having an interview 
with your Mr. Cust. Is he at home now?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“When did he return?” 

"The evening of the Doncaster murder, sir.” 

“What’s he been doing since?” 

“He’s stayed in mostly, sir. And he’s been looking very queer, Mrs. 
Marbury says. He buys a lot of newspapers — goes out early and gets 
the morning ones, and then after dark he goes out and gets the evening 
ones. Mrs. Marbury says he talks a lot to himself, too. She thinks he’s 
getting queerer.” 

“What is this Mrs. Marbury’s address?” 

Tom gave it to him. 

“Thank you. I shall probably be calling round in the course of the 
day. I need hardly tell you to be careful of your manner if you come 
across this Cust.” 

He rose and shook hands. 

“You may be quite satisfied you did the right thing in coming to us. 
Good-morning, Mr. Hartigan.” 

“Well, sir?” asked Jacobs, re-entering the room a few minutes later. 
“Think it’s the goods?” 

“It’s promising,” said Inspector Crome. “That is, if the facts are as 
the boy stated them. We’ve had no luck with the stocking manufactur- 



144 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


ers yet. It was time we got hold of something. By the way, give me that 
file of the Churston case.” 

He spent some minutes looking for what he wanted. 

“Ah, here it is. It’s amongst the statements made to the Torquay po- 
lice. Young man of the name of Hill. Deposes he was leaving the 
Torquay Pavilion after the film Not a Sparrow and noticed a man be- 
having queerly. He was talking to himself. Hill heard him say, ‘That’s 
an idea.’ Not a Sparrow — that’s the film that was on at the Regal in 
Doncaster?” 

“Yes, sir.” 

“There may be something in that. Nothing to it at the time — but it’s 
possible that the idea of the modus operandi for his next crime oc- 
curred to our man then. We’ve got Hill’s name and address, I see. His 
description of the man is vague but it links up well enough with the de- 
scriptions of Mary Stroud and this Tom Hartigan ” 

He nodded thoughtfully. 

“We’re getting warm,” said Inspector Crome — rather inaccurately, 
for he himself was always slightly chilly. 

“Any instructions, sir?” 

“Put on a couple of men to watch this Camden Town address, but I 
don’t want our bird frightened. I must have a word with the A.C. Then 
I think it would be as well if Cust was brought along here and asked if 
he’d like to make a statement. It sounds as though he’s quite ready to 
get rattled.” 

Outside Tom Hartigan had rejoined Lily Marbury who was waiting 
for him on the Embankment. 

“All right, Tom?” 

Tom nodded. 

“I saw Inspector Crome himself. The one who’s in charge of the 
case.” 

“What’s he like?” 

“A bit quiet and la-di-da — not my idea of a detective.” 

“That’s Lord Trenchard’s new kind,” said Lily with respect. “Some 
of them are ever so grand. Well, what did he say?” 

Tom gave her a brief resume of the interview. 

“So they think as it really was him?” 

“They think it might be. Anyway, they’ll come along and ask him a 
question or two.” 

“Poor Mr. Cust.” 

“It’s no good saying poor Mr. Cust, my girl. If he’s A.B.C., he’s 
committed four terrible murders.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


145 


Lily sighed and shook her head. 

“It does seem awful,” she observed. 

“Well, now you’re going to come and have a bite of lunch, my girl. 
Just you think that if we’re right I expect my name will be in the pa- 
pers!” 

“Oh, Tom, will it?” 

“Rather. And yours, too. And your mother’s. And I dare say you’ll 
have your picture in, too.” 

“Oh, Tom.” Lily squeezed his arm in an ecstasy. 

“And in the meantime, what do you say to a bite at the Comer 
House?” 

Lily squeezed tighter. 

“Come on then!” 

“All right — half a minute. I must just telephone from the station.” 

“Who to?” 

“A girl I was going to meet.” She slipped across the road, and re- 
joined him three minutes later, looking rather flushed. 

“Now then, Tom.” She slipped her arm in his. “Tell me more about 
Scotland Yard. You didn’t see the other one there?” 

“What other one?” 

“The Belgian gentleman. The one that A.B.C. writes to always.” 

“No. He wasn’t there.” 

“Well, tell me all about it. What happened when you got inside? 
Who did you speak to and what did you say?” 

Mr. Cust put the receiver back very gently on the hook. 

He turned to where Mrs. Marbury was standing in the doorway of a 
room, clearly devoured with curiosity. 

“Not often you have a telephone call, Mr. Cust.” 

“No — er — no, Mrs. Marbury. It isn’t.” 

“Not bad news, I trust?” 

“No — no.” How persistent the woman was. His eye caught the leg- 
end on the newspaper he was carrying. 

Births — Marriages — Deaths . . . 

“My sister’s just had a little boy,” he blurted out. 

He — who had never had a sister! 

“Oh, dear! Now — well, that is nice, I am sure. (‘And never once 
mentioned a sister all these years,’ was her inward thought ‘If that 
isn’t just like a man!’) I was surprised. I’ll tell you, when the lady 
asked to speak to Mr. Cust. Just at first I fancied it was my Lily’s 
voice — something like hers, it was — but haughtier if you know what I 



146 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


mean — sort of high up in the air. Well, Mr. Cust, my congratulations, 
I’m sure. Is it the first one, or have you other little nephews and 
nieces?” 

“It’s the only one,” said Mr. Cust. “The only one Fve ever had or 
likely to have, and — er — I think I must go off at once. They — they 
want me to come. I — I think I can just catch a train if I hurry.” 

“Will you be away long, Mr. Cust?” called Mrs. Marbury as he ran 
up the stairs. 

“Oh, no — two or three days — that’s all.” 

He disappeared into his bedroom. Mrs. Marbury retired into the 
kitchen, thinking sentimentally of “the dear little mite.” 

Her conscience gave her a sudden twinge. 

Last night Tom and Lily and ail the hunting back over dates! Trying 
to make out that Mr. Cust was that dreadful monster, A.B.C. Just be- 
cause of his initials and because of a few coincidences. 

“I don’t suppose they meant it seriously,” she thought comfortably. 
“And now I hope theyTl be ashamed of themselves.” 

In some obscure way that she could not have explained, Mr. Cust’s 
statement that his sister had had a baby had effectually removed any 
doubts Mrs. Marbury might have had of her lodger’s bona f ides. 

“I hope she didn’t have too bad a time of it, poor dear,” thought Mrs. 
Marbury, testing an iron against her cheek before beginning to iron out 
Lily’s silk slip. 

Her mind ran comfortably on a well-worn obstetric track. 

Mr. Cust came quietly down the stairs, a bag in his hand. His eyes 
rested a minute on the telephone. 

That brief conversation re-echoed in his brain. 

“Is that you, Mr. Cust? I thought you might like to know there’s an 
inspector from Scotland Yard may be coming to see you. . . 

What had he said? He couldn’t remember. 

“Thank you— thank you, my dear . . . very kind of you ” 

Something like that. 

Why had she telephoned to him? Could she possibly have guessed? 
Or did she just want to make sure he would stay in for the inspector’s 
visit? 

But how did she know the inspector was coming? 

And her voice — she’d disguised her voice from her mother. . . . 

It looked — it looked — as though she hiew 

But surely if she knew, she wouldn’t . . . 

She might, though. Women were very queer. Unexpectedly cruel 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


147 


and unexpectedly kind. He’d seen Lily once letting a mouse out of a 
mouse trap. 

A kind girl 

A kind, pretty girl 

He paused by the hall stand with its load of umbrellas and coats. 
Should he — ? 

A slight noise from the kitchen decided him 

No, there wasn’t time 

Mrs. Marbury might come out 

He opened the front door, passed through and closed it behind 

him 

Where . . . ? 



XXIX. fit Scotland Vard 


V 


Conference again. 

The Assistant Commissioner, Inspector Crome, Poirot and myself. 

The A.C. was saying: 

“A good tip that of yours, M. Poirot, about checking a large sale of 
stockings.” 

Poirot spread out his hands. 

“It was indicated. This man could not be a regular agent. He sold 
outright instead of touting for orders.” 

“Got everything clear so far, inspector?” 

“I think so, sir.” Crome consulted a file. “Shall I run over the posi- 
tion to date?” 

“Yes, please.” 

“I’ve checked up with Churston, Paignton and Torquay. Got a list of 
people where he went and offered stockings. I must say he did the 
thing thoroughly. Stayed at the Pitt, small hotel near Torre Station. Re- 
turned to the hotel at 10:30 on the night of the murder. Could have 
taken a train from Churston at 10:05, getting to Paignton at 10:15. No 
one answering to his description noticed on train or at stations, but that 
Thursday was Dartmouth Regatta and the trains back from Kingswear 
were pretty full. 

“Bexhill much the same. Stayed at the Glove under his own name. 
Offered stockings to about a dozen addresses, including Mrs. Barnard 
and including the Ginger Cat. Left hotel early in the evening. Arrived 

148 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


149 


back in London about 11:30 the following morning. As to Andover, 
same procedure. Stayed at the Feathers. Offered stockings to Mrs. 
Fowler, next door to Mrs. Ascher, and to half a dozen other people in 
the street. The pair Mrs. Ascher had I got from the niece (name of 
Drower) — they’re identical with Gust’s supply.” 

“So far, good,” said the A.C. 

“Acting on information received,” said the inspector, “I went to the 
address given me by Hartigan, but found that Gust had left the house 
about half an hour previously. He received a telephone message. I’m 
told. First time such a thing had happened to him, so his landlady told 
me.” 

“An accomplice?” suggested the Assistant Commissioner. 

“Hardly,” said Poirot. “It is odd that — unless — ” 

We all looked at him inquiringly as he paused. 

He shook his head, however, and the inspector proceeded. 

“I made a thorough search of the room he had occupied. That search 
puts the matter beyond doubt. I found a block of notepaper similar to 
that on which the letters were written, a large quantity ' of hosiery 
and — at the back of the cupboard where the hosiery was stored — a par- 
cel much the same shape and size but which turned out to contain — not 
hosiery — but eight new A.B.C. railway guides!” 

“Proof positive,” said the Assistant Commissioner. 

“I’ve found something else, too,” said the inspector— -his voice be- 
coming suddenly almost human with triumph. “Only found it this 
morning, sir. Not had time to report yet. There was no sign of the knife 
in his room — •” 

“It would be the act of an imbecile to bring that back with him,” re- 
marked Poirot. 

“After all, he’s not a reasonable human being,” remarked the inspec- 
tor. “Anyway, it occurred to me that he might just possibly have 
brought it back to the house and then realized the danger of hiding it 
(as M. Poirot points out) in his room, and have looked about else- 
where. What place in the house would he be likely to select? I got it 
straightaway. The hall stand — no one ever moves a hall stand. With a 
lot of trouble I got it moved out from the wall — and there it was!” 

“The knife?” 

“The knife. Not a doubt of it. The dried blood’s still on it.” 

“Good work, Crome,” said the A.C. approvingly. “We only need 
one thing more now.” 

“What’s that?” 

“The man himself.” 



150 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“We’ll get him, sir. Never fear.” 

The inspector’s tone was confident. 

“What do you say, M. Poirot?” 

Poirot started out of a reverie. 

“I beg your pardon?” 

“We were saying that it was only a matter of time before we get our 
man. Do you agree?” 

“Oh, that — yes. Without a doubt.” 

His tone was so abstracted that the others looked at him curiously. 

“Is there anything worrying you, M. Poirot?” 

“There is something that worries me very much. It is the whyl The 
motive? 7 

“But, my dear fellow, the man’s crazy,” said the Assistant Commis- 
sioner impatiently. 

“I understand what M. Poirot means,” said Crome, coming gra- 
ciously to the rescue. “He’s quite right. There’s got to be some definite 
obsession. I think we’U find the root of the matter in an intensified in- 
feriority complex. There may be persecution mania, too, and if so he 
may possibly associate M. Poirot with it. He may have the delusion 
that M. Poirot is a detective employed on purpose to hunt him down.” 

“H’m,” said the A.C. “That’s the jargon that’s talked nowadays. In 
my day if a man was mad he was mad and we didn’t look about for sci- 
entific terms to soften it down. I suppose a thoroughly up-to-date doc- 
tor would suggest putting a man like A.B.C. in a nursing home, telling 
him what a fine fellow he was for forty-five days on end and then let- 
ting him out as a responsible member of society.” 

Poirot smiled but did not answer. 

The conference broke up. 

“Well,” said the Assistant Commissioner. “As you say, Crome, pull- 
ing him in is only a matter of time.” 

“We’d have had him before now,” said the inspector, “if he wasn’t 
so ordinaiy-looking. We’ve worried enough perfectly inoffensive citi- 
zens as it is.” 

“I wonder where he is at this minute,” said the Assistant Commis- 
sioner. 



XXX. (Not from Captain Hastings' 
Personal Narrative) 


V 


Mr. Cust stood by a greengrocer’s shop. 

He stared across the road. 

Yes, that was it. 

Mrs. Ascher. Newsagent and Tobacconist . . . 

In the empty window was a sign. 

To Let. 

Empty. . . . 

Lifeless 

“Excuse me, sir.” 

The greengrocer’s wife, trying to get at some lemons. 

He apologized, moved to one side. 

Slowly he shuffled away — back towards the main street of the 
town. . . . 

It was difficult — very difficult — now that he hadn’t any money 
left. ... 

Not having had anything to eat all day made one feel very queer and 
light-headed 

He looked at a poster outside a newsagent’s shop. 

The A.B.C. Case. Murderer Still at Large. Interview with M. 
Hercule Poirot. 

Mr. Cust said to himself: 

“Hercule Poirot. I wonder if he knows ” 

He walked on again. 


151 



152 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


It wouldn’t do to stand staring at that poster. . . . 

He thought: 

“I can’t go on much longer. . . 

Foot in front of foot . . . what an odd thing walking was 

Foot in front of foot — ridiculous. 

Highly ridiculous 

But man was a ridiculous animal anyway 

And he, Alexander Bonaparte Cust, was particularly ridiculous 

He always had been 

People had always laughed at him 

He couldn’t blame them 

Where was he going? He didn’t know. He’d come to the end. He no 
longer looked anywhere but at his feet. 

Foot in front of foot. 

He looked up. Lights in front of him. And letters 

Police Station. 

“That’s funny,” said Mr. Cust. He gave a little giggle. 

Then he stepped inside. Suddenly, as he did so, he swayed and fell 
forward. 



XXXI. Hercule Poirot Asks 
Questions 


V 


It was a clear November day. Dr. Thompson and Chief Inspector Japp 
had come round to acquaint Poirot with the result of the police court 
proceedings in the case of Rex v. Alexander Bonaparte Cust. 

Poirot himself had had a slight bronchial chill which had prevented 
his attending. Fortunately he had not insisted on having my company. 

‘‘Committed for trial,” said Japp. “So that’s that.” 

“Isn’t it unusual,” I asked, “for a defence to be offered at this stage? 
I thought prisoners always reserved their defence.” 

“It’s the usual course,” said Japp. “I suppose young Lucas thought 
he might rush it through. He’s a trier, I will say. Insanity’s the only de- 
fence possible.” 

Poirot shrugged his shoulders. 

“With insanity there can be no acquittal. Imprisonment during Her 
Majesty’s pleasure is hardly preferable to death.” 

“I suppose Lucas thought there was a chance,” said Japp. “With a 
first-class alibi for the Bexhill murder, the whole case might be weak- 
ened. I don’t think he realized how strong our case is. Anyway Lucas 
goes in for originality. He’s a young man, and he wanted to hit the pub- 
lic eye.” 

Poirot turned to Thompson. 

“What’s your opinion, doctor?” 

“Of Cust? Upon my soul, I don’t know what to say. He’s playing the 
sane man remarkably well. He’s an epileptic, of course.” 

153 



154 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“What an amazing denouement that was,” I said. 

“His falling into the Andover police station in a fit? Yes — it was a 
fitting dramatic curtain to the drama. A.B.C. had always timed his ef- 
fects well.” 

“Is it possible to commit a crime and be unaware of it?” I asked. 
“His denials seem to have a ring of truth in them.” 

Dr. Thompson smiled a little. 

“You mustn’t be taken in by that theatrical T swear by God’ pose. 
It’s my opinion that Cust knows perfectly well he committed the mur- 
ders.” 

“When they’re as fervent as that they usually do,” said Japp. 

“As to your question,” went on Thompson, “it’s perfectly possible 
for an epileptic subject in a state of somnambulism to commit an ac- 
tion and be entirely unaware of having done so. But it is the general 
opinion that such an action must ‘not be contrary to the will of the per- 
son in the waking state.’ ” 

He went on discussing the matter, speaking of grand mat and petit 
mal and, to tell the truth, confusing me hopelessly as is often the case 
when a learned person holds forth on his own subject. 

“However, I’m against the theory that Cust committed these crimes 
without knowing he’d done them. You might put that theory forward if 
it weren’t for the letters. The letters knock the theory on the head. They 
show premeditation and a careful planning of the crime.” 

“And of the letters we have still no explanation,” said Poirot. 

“That interests you?” 

“Naturally — since they were written to me. And on the subject of 
the letters Cust is persistently dumb. Until I get at the reason for those 
letters being written to me, I shall not feel that the case is solved.” 

“Yes — I can understand that from your point of view. There doesn’t 
seem to be any reason to believe that the man ever came up against you 
in any way?” 

“None whatever.” 

“I might make a suggestion. Your name!” 

“My name?” 

“Yes. Cust is saddled — apparently by the whim of his mother (CEdi- 
pus complex there, I shouldn’t wonder!) — with two extremely bom- 
bastic Christian names: Alexander and Bonaparte. You see the 
implications? Alexander — the popularly supposed undefeatable who 
sighed for more worlds to conquer. Bonaparte — the great Emperor of 
the French. He wants an adversary — an adversary, one might say, in 
his class. Well — there you are — Hercules the strong.” 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


155 


“Your words are very suggestive, doctor. They foster ideas. . . 

“Oh, it’s only a suggestion. Well, I must be off.” 

Dr. Thompson went out. Japp remained. 

“Does this alibi worry you?” Poirot asked. 

“It does a little,” admitted the inspector. “Mind you, I don’t believe 
in it, because I know it isn’t true. But it is going to be the deuce to 
break it. This man Strange is a tough character.” 

“Describe him to me.” 

“He’s a man of forty. A tough, confident, self-opinionated mining 
engineer. It’s my opinion that it was he who insisted on his evidence 
being taken now. He wants to get off to Chile. He hoped the thing 
might be settled out of hand.” 

“He’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever seen,” I said. 

“The type of man who would not like to admit he was mistaken,” 
said Poirot thoughtfully. 

“He sticks to his story and he’s not one to be heckled. He swears by 
all that’s blue that he picked up Cust in the Whitecross Hotel at 
Eastbourne on the evening of July 24th. He was lonely and wanted 
some one to talk to. As far as I can see, Cust made an ideal listener. He 
didn’t interrupt! After dinner he and Cust played dominoes. It appears 
Strange was a whale on dominoes and to his surprise Cust was pretty 
hot stuff too. Queer game, dominoes. People go mad about it. They’ll 
play for hours. That’s what Strange and Cust did apparently. Cust 
wanted to go to bed but Strange wouldn’t hear of it — swore they’d 
keep it up until midnight at least. And that’s what they did do. They 
separated at ten minutes past midnight. And if Cust was in the 
Whitecross Hotel at Eastbourne at ten minutes past midnight on the 
morning of the 25th he couldn’t very well be strangling Betty Barnard 
on the beach at Bexhill between midnight and one o’clock.” 

“The problem certainly seems insuperable,” said Poirot thought- 
fully. “Decidedly, it gives one to think.” 

“It’s given Crome something to think about,” said Japp. 

“This man Strange is very positive?” 

“Yes. He’s an obstinate devil. And it’s difficult to see just where the 
flaw is. Supposing Strange is making a mistake and the man wasn’t 
Cust— -why on earth should he say his name is Cust? And the writing in 
the hotel register is his all right. You can’t say he’s an accomplice — 
homicidal lunatics don’t have accomplices! Did the girl die later? The 
doctor was quite firm in his evidence, and anyway it would take some 
time for Cust to get out of the hotel at Eastbourne without being seen 
and get over to Bexhill — fourteen miles away — ” 



156 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“It is a problem — -yes,” said Poirot. 

“Of course, strictly speaking, it oughtn’t to matter. We’ve got Gust 
on the Doncaster murder — the blood-stained coat, the knife — not a 
loophole there. You couldn’t bounce any jury into acquitting him. But 
it spoils a pretty case. He did the Doncaster murder. He did the 
Churston murder. He did the Andover murder. Then, by hell, he must 
have done the Bexhill murder. But I don’t see how!” 

He shook his head and got up. 

“Now’s your chance, M. Poirot,” he said. “Crome’s in a fog. Exert 
those cellular arrangements of yours I used to hear so much about. 
Show us the way he did it.” 

Japp departed. 

“What about it, Poirot?” X said. “Are the little grey cells equal to the 
task?” 

Poirot answered my question by another. 

“Tell me, Hastings, do you consider the case ended?” 

“Well — yes, practically speaking. We’ve got the man. And we’ve 
got most of the evidence. It’s only the trimmings that are needed.” 

Poirot shook his head. 

“The case is ended! The case! The case is the man , Hastings. Until 
we know all about the man, the mystery is as deep as ever. It is not vic- 
tory because we have put him in the dock!” 

“We know a fair amount about him.” 

“We know nothing at all! We know where he was bom. We know he 
fought in the war and received a slight wound in the head and that 
he was discharged from the Army owing to epilepsy. We know that he 
lodged with Mrs. Marbury for nearly two years. We know that he was 
quiet and retiring — the sort of man that nobody notices. We know that 
he invented and carried out an intensely clever scheme of systematized 
murder. We know that he made certain incredibly stupid blunders. We 
know that he killed without pity and quite ruthlessly. We know, too, 
that he was kindly enough not to let blame rest on any other person for 
the crimes he committed. If he wanted to kill unmolested — how easy 
to let other persons suffer for his crimes. Do you not see, Hastings, that 
the man is a mass of contradictions? Stupid and cunning, ruthless and 
magnanimous — and that there must be some dominating factor that 
reconciles his two natures .” 

“Of course, if you treat him like a psychological study,” I began. 

“What else has this case been since the beginning? All along I have 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


157 


been groping my way — trying to get to know the murderer . And now I 
realize, Hastings, that I do not know him at alll I am at sea/’ 

“The lust for power — ” I began. 

“Yes — that might explain a good deal But it does not satisfy me. 

There are things I want to know. Why did he commit these murders? 
Why did he choose those particular people — ?” 

“Alphabetically — •” I began. 

“Was Betty Barnard the only person in Bexhill whose name began 
with a B? Betty Barnard — I had an idea there. ... It ought to be 
true — it must be true. But if so — ” 

He was silent for some time. I did not like to interrupt him. 

As a matter of fact, I believe I fell asleep. 

I woke to find Poirot’s hand on my shoulder. 

“Mon cher Hastings , ” he said affectionately. “My good genius.” 

I was quite confused by this sudden mark of esteem. 

“It is true,” Poirot insisted. “Always — always — you help me — -you 
bring me luck. You inspire me.” 

“How have I inspired you this time?” I asked. 

“While I was asking myself certain questions I remembered a re- 
mark of yours — a remark absolutely shimmering in its clear vision. 
Did I not say to you once that you had a genius for stating the obvious? 
It is the obvious that I have neglected.” 

“What is this brilliant remark of mine?” I asked. 

“It makes everything as clear as crystal. I see the answers to all my 
questions. The reason for Mrs. Ascher (that, it is true, I glimpsed long 
ago), the reason for Sir Carmichael Clarke, the reason for the 
Doncaster murder, and finally and supremely important, the reason for 
Hercule Poirot .” 

“Could you kindly explain?” I asked. 

“Not at the moment. I require first a little more information. That I 
can get from our Special Legion. And then — then, when I have got the 
answer to a certain question , I will go and see A.B.C. We will be face 
to face at last— A.B.C. and Hercule Poirot— the adversaries.” 

“And then?” I asked. 

“And then,” said Poirot, “we will talk! Je vous assure , Hastings — 
there is nothing so dangerous for any one who has something to hide as 
conversation! Speech, so a wise old Frenchman said to me once, is an 
invention of man’s to prevent him from thinking. It is also an infallible 
means of discovering that which he wishes to hide. A human being, 
Hastings, cannot resist the opportunity to reveal himself and expm cc 



158 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


his personality which conversation gives him. Every time he will give 
himself away.” 

“What do you expect Cust to tell you?” 

Hercule Poirot smiled. 

“A lie,” he said. “And by it, I shall know the truth!” 



XXXII. find Catch a Fox 


V 


During the next few days Poirot was very busy. He made mysterious 
absences, talked very little, frowned to himself, and consistently 
refused to satisfy my natural curiosity as to the brilliance I had, accord- 
ing to him, displayed in the past. 

I was not invited to accompany him on his mysterious comings and 
goings — a fact which I somewhat resented. 

Towards the end of the week, however, he announced his intention 
of paying a visit to Bexhill and neighbourhood and suggested that I 
should come with him. Needless to say, I accepted with alacrity. 

The invitation, I discovered, was not extended to me alone. The 
members of our Special Legion were also invited. 

They were as intrigued by Poirot as I was. Nevertheless, by the end 
of the day, I had at any rate an idea as to the direction in which Poirot’s 
thoughts were tending. 

He first visited Mr. and Mrs. Barnard and got an exact account from 
her as to the hour at which Mr. Cust had called on her and exactly what 
he had said. He then went to the hotel at which Cust had put up and ex- 
tracted a minute description of that gentleman’s departure. As far as 1 
could judge, no new facts were elicited by his questions but he himself 
seemed quite satisfied. 

Next he went to the beach — to the place where Betty Barnard’s body 
had been discovered. Here he walked round in circles for some 

159 



160 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


minutes studying the shingle attentively. I could see little point in this, 
since the tide covered the spot twice a day. 

However I have learnt by this time that Poirot’s actions are usually 
dictated by an idea — however meaningless they may seem. 

He then walked from the beach to the nearest point at which a car 
could have been parked. From there again he went to the place where 
the Eastbourne buses waited before leaving Bexhill. 

Finally he took us all to the Ginger Cat cafe, where we had a some- 
what stale tea served by the plump waitress, Milly Higley. 

Her he complimented in a flowing Gallic style on the shape of her 
ankles. 

“The legs of the English — always they are too thin! But you, made- 
moiselle, have the perfect leg. It has shape — it has an ankle!” 

Milly Higley giggled a good deal and told him not to go on so. She 
knew what French gentlemen were like. 

Poirot did not trouble to contradict her mistake as to his nationality. 
He merely ogled her in such a way that I was startled and almost 
shocked. 

“Voila, ” said Poirot, “I have finished in Bexhill. Presently I go to 
Eastbourne. One little inquiry there — that is all. Unnecessary for you 
all to accompany me. In the meantime come back to the hotel and let us 
have a cocktail. That Carlton tea, it was abominable!” 

As we were sipping our cocktails Franklin Clarke said curiously: 

“I suppose we can guess what you are after? You’re out to break that 
alibi. But I can’t see what you’re so pleased about. You haven’t got a 
new fact of any kind.” 

“No — that is true.” 

“Well, then?” 

“Patience. Everything arranges itself, given time.” 

“You seem quite pleased with yourself anyway.” 

“Nothing so far has contradicted my little idea — that is why.” 

His face grew serious. 

“My friend Hastings told me once that he had, as a young man, 
played a game called The Truth. It was a game where every one in turn 
was asked three questions — two of which must be answered truthfully. 
The third one could be barred. The questions, naturally, were of the 
most indiscreet kind. But to begin with every one had to swear that 
they would indeed speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the 
truth.” 

He paused. 

“Well?” said Megan. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


161 


“Eh bien — me, I want to play that game. Only it is not necessary to 
have three questions. One will be enough. One question to each of 
you.” 

“Of course,” said Clarke impatiently. “We’ll answer anything.” 

“Ah, but I want it to be more serious than that. Do you all swear to 
speak the truth?” 

He was so solemn about it that the others, puzzled, became solemn 
themselves. They all swore as he demanded. 

“Bon, ” said Poirot briskly. “Let us begin — ” 

“I’m ready,” said Thora Grey. 

“Ah, but ladies first — this time it would not be the politeness. We 
will start elsewhere.” 

He turned to Franklin Clarke. 

“What, mon cher M . Clarke , did you think of the hats the ladies 
wore at Ascot this year?” 

Franklin Clarke stared at him. 

“Is this a joke?” 

“Certainly not.” 

“Is that seriously your question?” 

“It is.” 

Clarke began to grin. 

“Well, M. Poirot, I didn’t actually go to Ascot, but from what I could 
see of them driving in cars, women’s hats for Ascot were an even big- 
ger joke than the hats they wear ordinarily.” 

“Fantastic?” 

“Quite fantastic.” 

Poirot smiled and turned to Donald Fraser. 

“When did you take your holiday this year, Monsieur?” 

It was Fraser’s turn to stare. 

“My holiday? The first two weeks in August.” 

His face quivered suddenly. I guessed that the question had brought 
the loss of the girl he loved back to him. 

Poirot, however, did not seem to pay much attention to the reply. He 
turned to Thora Grey and I heard die slight difference in his voice. It 
had tightened up. His question came sharp and clear. 

“Mademoiselle, in the event of Lady Clarke’s death, would you 
have married Sir Carmichael if he had asked you?” 

The girl sprang up. 

“How dare you ask me such a question. It’s — it’s insulting!” 

“Perhaps. But you have sworn to speak the truth. Eh bien — Yes or 
no?” 



162 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Sir Carmichael was wonderfully kind to me. He treated me almost 
like a daughter. And that’s how I felt to him— just affectionate and 
grateful.” 

“Pardon me, but that is not answering yes or no, mademoiselle.” 

She hesitated. 

“The answer, of course, is no!” 

He made no comment. 

“Thank you, mademoiselle.” 

He turned to Megan Barnard. The girl’s face was very pale. She was 
breathing hard as though braced up for an ordeal. 

Poirot’s voice came out like the crack of a whip lash. 

“Mademoiselle, what do you hope will be the result of my investiga- 
tions? Do you want me to find out the truth — or not?” 

Her head went back proudly. I was fairly sure of her answer. Megan, 
I knew, had a fanatical passion for truth. 

Her answer came clearly — and it stupefied me. 

“No!” 

We all jumped. Poirot leaned forward, studying her face. 

“Mademoiselle Megan,” he said, “you may not want the truth 
but — mafoi — you can speak it!” 

He turned towards the door, then, recollecting, went to Mary 
Drower. 

‘Tell me, mon enfant , have you a young man?” 

Mary, who had been looking apprehensive, looked startled and 
blushed. 

“Oh, Mr. Poirot, I — I— well, I’m not sure.” 

He smiled. 

“Alors c’est bien, mon enfant. ” 

He looked round for me. 

“Come, Hastings, we must start for Eastbourne.” 

The car was waiting and soon we were driving along the coast road 
that leads through Pevensey to Eastbourne. 

“Is it any use asking you anything, Poirot?” 

“Not at this moment. Draw your own conclusions as to what I am 
doing.” 

I relapsed into silence. 

Poirot, who seemed pleased with himself, hummed a little tune. As 
we passed through Pevensey he suggested that we stop and have a look 
over the castle. 

As we were returning towards the car, we paused a moment to watch 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


163 


a ring of children — Brownies, I guessed, by their getup — who were 
singing a ditty in shrill, untuneful voices. . . . 

“What is it that they say, Hastings? I cannot catch the words.” 

I listened — till I caught one refrain. 

“ — And catch a fox 
And put him in a box 
And never let him go. ” 

“And catch a fox and put him in a box and never let him go!” re- 
peated Poirot. 

His face had gone suddenly grave and stem. 

“It is veiy terrible that, Hastings.” He was silent a minute. “You 
hunt the fox here?” 

“I don’t. I’ve never been able to afford to hunt. And I don’t think 
there’s much hunting in this part of the world.” 

“I meant in England generally. A strange sport. The waiting at the 
covert side — then they sound the tally-ho, do they not? — and the mn 
begins — across the country — over the hedges and ditches — and the 
fox he runs — and sometimes he doubles back — but the dogs — ” 

“Hounds!” 

“ — hounds are on his trail, and at last they catch him and he dies — 
quickly and horribly.” 

“I suppose it does sound cruel, but really — •” 

“The fox enjoys it? Do not say les betises , my friend. Tout de 
meme — it is better that — the quick, cruel death — than what those chil- 
dren were singing. . . . 

‘To be shut away — in a box — for ever. . . . No, it is not good, that.” 

He shook his head. Then he said, with a change of tone: 

‘To-morrow, I am to visit the man Cust,” and he added to the chauf- 
feur: 

“Back to London.” 

“Aren’t you going to Eastbourne?” I cried. 

“What need? I know — quite enough for my purpose.” 



XXXIII. Alexander Bonaparte 
Cust 


V 


"Was not present at the interview that took place between Poirot and 
that strange man — Alexander Bonaparte Cust. Owing to his associa- 
tion with the police and the peculiar circumstances of the case, Poirot 
had no difficulty in obtaining a Home Office order — but that order did 
not extend to me, and in any case it was essential, from Poirot’s point 
of view, that that interview should be absolutely private — the two men 
face to face. 

He has given me, however, such a detailed account of what passed 
between them that I set it down with as much confidence on paper as 
though I had actually been present. 

Mr. Cust seemed to have shrunk. His stoop was more apparent His 
fingers plucked vaguely at his coat. 

For some time, I gather, Poirot did not speak. 

He sat and looked at the man opposite him. 

The atmosphere became restful — soothing — full of infinite lei- 
sure 

It must have been a dramatic moment — this meeting of the two ad- 
versaries in the long drama. In Poirot’s place I should have felt the 
dramatic thrill. 

Poirot, however, is nothing if not matter-of-fact. He was absorbed in 
producing a certain effect upon the man opposite him. 

At last he said gently: 

“Do you know who I am?” 


164 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


165 


The other shook his head. 

“No — no — I can’t say I do. Unless you are Mr. Lucas’s — what do 
they call it? — -junior. Or perhaps you come from Mr. Maynard?” 

(Maynard & Cole were the defending solicitors.) 

His tone was polite but not very interested. He seemed absorbed in 
some inner abstraction. 

“I am Hercule Poirot ” 

Poirot said the words very gently . . . and watched for the effect. 

Mr. Cust raised his head a little. 

“Oh, yes?” 

He said it as naturally as Inspector Crome might have said it — but 
without the superciliousness. 

Then, a minute later, he repeated his remark. 

“Oh, yes?” he said, and this time his tone was different — it held an 
awakened interest. He raised his head and looked at Poirot. 

Hercule Poirot met his gaze and nodded his own head gently once or 
twice. 

“Yes,” he said. “I am the man to whom you wrote the letters.” 

At once the contact was broken. Mr. Cust dropped his eyes and 
spoke irritably and fretfully. 

“I never wrote to you. Those letters weren’t written by me. I’ve said 
so again and again.” 

“I know,” said Poirot.. “But if you did not write them, who did?” 

“An enemy. I must have an enemy. They are all against me. The 
police — every one — all against me. It’s a gigantic conspiracy.” 

Poirot did not reply. 

Mr. Cust said: 

“Every one’s hand has been against me — always.” 

“Even when you were a child?” 

Mr. Cust seemed to consider. 

“No — no — not exactly then. My mother was very fond of me. But 
she was ambitious — terribly ambitious. That’s why she gave me those 
ridiculous names. She had some absurd idea that I’d cut a figure in the 
world. She was always urging me to assert myself — talking about will 
power . . . saying any one could be master of his fate ... she said I 
could do anything!” 

He was silent for a minute. 

“She was quite wrong, of course. I realized that myself quite soon. I 
wasn’t the sort of person to get on in life. I was always doing foolish 
things — making myself look ridiculous. And I was timid — afraid of 
people. I had a bad time at school — the boys found out my Christian 



166 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


names — they used to tease me about them. ... I did very badly at 
school — in games and work and everything.” 

He shook his head. 

“Just as well poor mother died. She’d have been disappointed 

Even when I was at the Commercial College I was stupid — it took me 
longer to learn typing and shorthand than any one else. And yet I didn’t 
feel stupid — if you know what I mean.” 

He cast a sudden appealing look at the other man. 

“I know what you mean,” said Poirot. “Go on.” 

“It was just the feeling that everybody else thought me stupid. Very 
paralyzing. It was the same thing later in the office.” 

“And later still — in the war?” prompted Poirot. 

Mr. Cast’s face lightened up suddenly. 

“You know,” he said, “I enjoyed the war. What I had of it, that was. 
I felt, for the first time, a man like anybody else. We were all in the 
same box. I was as good as any one else.” 

His smile faded. 

“And then I got that wound on the head. Very slight. But they found 

out I had fits Fd always known, of course, that there were times 

when I hadn’t been quite sure what 1 was doing. Lapses, you know. 
And of course, once or twice Fd fallen down. But I don’t really think 
they ought to have discharged me for that. No, I don’t think it was 
right.” 

“And afterwards?” asked Poirot. 

“I got a place as a clerk. Of course there was good money to be got 
just then. And I didn’t do so badly after the war. Of course, a smaller 
salary. . . . And — I didn’t seem to get on. I was always being passed 
over for promotion. I wasn’t going ahead enough. It grew very 

difficult — really very difficult Especially when the slump came. 

To tell you the truth, Fd got hardly enough to keep body and soul to- 
gether (and you’ve got to look presentable as a clerk) when I got the 
offer of this stocking job. A salary and commission!” 

Poirot said gently: 

“But you are aware, are you not, that the firm who you say em- 
ployed you deny the fact?” 

Mr. Cust got excited again. 

“That’s because they’re in the conspiracy — they must be in the con- 
spiracy.” 

He went on: 

“I’ve got written evidence — written evidence. I’ve got their letters 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


167 


to me, giving me instructions as to what places to go and a list of peo- 
ple to call on.” 

“Not written evidence exactly — typewritten evidence.” 

“It’s the same thing. Naturally a big firm of wholesale manufactur- 
ers typewrite their letters .” 

“Don’t you know, Mr. Cust, that a typewriter can be identified? All 
hose letters were typed by one particular machine.” 

“What of it?” 

“And that machine was your own — the one found in your room.” 

“It was sent me by the firm at the beginning of my job.” 

“Yes, but these letters were received afterwards . So it looks, does it 
not, as though you typed them yourself and posted them to yourself ?” 

“No, no! It’s all part of the plot against me!” 

He added suddenly: 

“Besides, their letters would be written on the same kind of machine.” 

“The same kind , but not the same actual machine.” 

Mr. Cust repeated obstinately: 

“It’s a plot!” 

“And the A.B.C.’s that were found in the cupboard?” 

“I know nothing about them. I thought they were all stockings.” 

“Why did you tick off the name of Mrs. Ascher in that first list of 
people in Andover?” 

“Because I decided to start with her. One must begin somewhere.” 

“Yes, that is true. One must begin somewhere .” 

“I don’t mean that!” said Mr. Cust. “I don’t mean what you mean!” 

“But you know what I meant ?” 

Mr. Cust said nothing. He was trembling. 

“I didn’t do it!” he said. “I’m perfectly innocent! It’s all a mistake. 
Why, look at that second crime — that Bexhill one. I was playing dom- 
inoes at Eastbourne. You’ve got to admit that!” 

His voice was triumphant. 

“Yes,” said Poirot. His voice was meditative — silky. “But it’s so easy, 
isn’t it, to make a mistake of one day? And if you’re an obstinate, posi- 
tive man, like Mr. Strange, you’ll never consider the possibility of hav- 
ing been mistaken. What you’ve said you’ll stick to. . . . He’s that kind 
of man. And the hotel register— it’s very easy to put down the wrong 
date when you’re signing it — probably no one will notice it at the time.” 

“I was playing dominoes that evening!” 

“You play dominoes very well, I believe.” 

Mr. Cust was a little flurried by this. 

“I— I— well, I believe I do.” 



168 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“It is a very absorbing game, is it not, with a lot of skill in it?” 

“Oh, there’s a lot of play in it — a lot of play! We used to play a lot in 
the city, in the lunch hour. You’d be surprised the way total strangers 
come together over a game of dominoes.” 

He chuckled. 

“I remember one man — I’ve never forgotten him because of some- 
thing he told me — we just got talking over a cup of coffee, and we 
started dominoes. Well, I felt after twenty minutes that I’d known that 
man all his life.” 

“What was it that he told you?” asked Poirot. 

Mr. Cust’s face clouded over. 

“It gave me a turn — a nasty turn. Talking of your fate being written 
in your hand, he was. And he showed me his hand and the lines that 
showed he’d have two near escapes of being drowned — and he had 
had two near escapes. And then he looked at mine and he told me some 
amazing things. Said I was going to be one of the most celebrated men 
in England before I died. Said the whole country would be talking 
about me. But he said — he said. . . .” 

Mr. Oust broke down — faltered 

“Yes?” 

Poirot’s gaze held a quiet magnetism. Mr. Cust looked at him, 
looked away, then back again like a fascinated rabbit. 

“He said — he said — that it looked as though I might die a violent 
death — and he laughed and said: ‘Almost looks as though you might 
die on the scaffold,’ and then he laughed and said that was only his 
joke. . . .” 

He was silent suddenly. His eyes left Poirot’s face — they ran from 
side to side. . . . 

“My head — I suffer very badly with my head ... the headaches are 
something cruel sometimes. And then there are times when I don’t 
know — when I don’t know ” 

He broke down. 

Poirot leant forward. He spoke very quietly but with great assurance. 

“But you do know ; don ’t you, ” he said, “that you committed the mur- 
ders?” 

Mr. Cust looked up. His glance was quite simple and direct. All re- 
sistance had left him. He looked strangely at peace. 

“Yes,” he said. “I know.” 

“But — I’m right, am I not? — you don ’t know why you did them?” 

Mr. Cust shook his head. 

“No,” he said. “I don’t.” 



XXXIV. Poirot Explains 

_____ 


We were sitting in a state of tense attention to listen to Poirot’s final ex- 
planation of the case. 

“All along,” he said, “I have been worried over the why of this case. 
Hastings said to me the other day that the case was ended. I replied to 
him that the case was the man I The mystery was not the mystery of the 
murders , but the mystery of A.B.C. Why did he find it necessary to 
commit these murders? Why did he select me as his adversary? 

“It is no answer to say that the man was mentally unhinged. To say a 
man does mad things because he is mad is merely unintelligent and 
stupid. A madman is as logical and reasoned in his action as a sane 
man — given his peculiar biased point of view. For example, if a man 
insists on going out and squatting about in nothing but a loin cloth his 
conduct seems eccentric in the extreme. But once you know that the 
man himself is firmly convinced that he is Mahatma Gandhi , then his 
conduct becomes perfectly reasonable and logical. 

“What was necessary in this case was to imagine a mind so consti- 
tuted that it was logical and reasonable to commit four or more mur- 
ders and to announce them beforehand by letters written to Hercule 
Poirot. 

“My friend, Hastings, will tell you that from the moment I received 
the first letter I was upset and disturbed. It seemed to me at once that 
there was something very wrong about the letter.” 

“You were quite right,” said Franklin Clarke dryly. 

169 



170 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


"‘Yes. But there, at the very start, I made a grave error. I permitted 
my feeling— my very strong feeling about the letter to remain a mere 
impression. I treated it as though it had been an intuition. In a well- 
balanced, reasoning mind there is no such thing as an intuition — an in- 
spired guess! You can guess, of course — and a guess is either right or 
wrong. If it is right you call it an intuition. If it is wrong you usually do 
not speak of it again. But what is often called an intuition is really an 
impression based on logical deduction or experience. When an expert 
feels that there is something wrong about a picture or a piece of furni- 
ture or the signature on a cheque he is really basing that feeling on a 
host of small signs and details. He has no need to go into them 
minutely — his experience obviates that — the net result is the definite 
impression that something is wrong. But it is not a guess , it is an im- 
pression based on experience . 

“Eh bien , I admit that I did not regard that first letter in the way I 
should. It just made me extremely uneasy. The police regarded it as a 
hoax. I myself took it seriously. I was convinced that a murder would 
take place in Andover as stated. As you know, a murder did take place. 

“There was no means at that point, as I well realized, of knowing 
who the person was who had done the deed. The only course open to 
me was to try and understand just what kind of a person had done it. 

“I had certain indications. The letter — the manner of the crime — the 
person murdered. What I had to discover was: the motive of the crime, 
the motive of the letter.” 

“Publicity,” suggested Clarke. 

“Surely an inferiority complex covers that,” added Thora Grey. 

“That was, of course, the obvious line to take. But why me? Why 
Hercule Poirot? Greater publicity could be ensured by sending the let- 
ters to Scotland Yard. More again by sending them to a newspaper. A 
newspaper might not print the first letter, but by the time the second 
crime took place, A.B.C. could have been assured of all the publicity 
the press could give. Why, then, Hercule Poirot? Was it for some per- 
sonal reason? There was, discernible in the letter, a slight antiforeign 
bias — but not enough to explain the matter to my satisfaction. 

“Then the second letter arrived — and was followed by the murder of 
Betty Barnard at Bexhill. It became clear now (what I had already sus- 
pected) that the murders were to proceed in an alphabetical plan, but 
that fact, which seemed final to most people, left the main question un- 
altered to my mind. Why did A.B.C. need to commit these murders?” 

Megan Barnard stirred in her chair. 

“Isn’t there such a thing as — as a blood lust?” she said. 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


171 


Poirot turned to her. 

“You are quite right, mademoiselle. There is such a thing. The lust 
to kill. But that did not quite fit the facts of the case. A homicidal ma- 
niac who desires to kill usually desires to kill as many victims as possi- 
ble . It is a recurring craving. The great idea of such a killer is to hide 
his tracks — not to advertise them. When we consider the four victims 
selected — or at any rate three of them (for I know very little of Mr. 
Downes or Mr. Earlsfield), we realize that if he had chosen , the mur- 
derer could have done away with them without incurring any suspi- 
cion. Franz Ascher, Donald Fraser or Megan Barnard, possibly Mr. 
Clarke — those are the people the police would have suspected even if 
they had been unable to get direct proof. An unknown homicidal mur- 
derer would not have been thought of! Why, then, did the murderer feel 
it necessary to call attention to himself? Was it the necessity of leaving 
on each body a copy of an A.B.C. railway guide? Was that the compul- 
sion? Was there some complex connected with the railway guide? 

“I found it quite inconceivable at this point to enter into the mind of 
the murderer. Surely it could not be magnanimity? A horror of respon- 
sibility for the crime being fastened on an innocent person? 

“Although I could not answer the main question, certain things I did 
feel I was learning about the murderer.” 

“Such as?” asked Fraser. 

‘To begin with — that he had a tabular mind. His crimes were listed 
by alphabetical progression — that was obviously important to him. On 
the other hand, he had no particular taste in victims — Mrs. Ascher, 
Betty Barnard, Sir Carmichael Clarke, they all differed widely from 
each other. There was no sex complex — no particular age complex, 
and that seemed to me to be a very curious fact. If a man kills indis- 
criminately it is usually because he removes any one who stands in his 
way or annoys him. But the alphabetical progression showed that such 
was not the case here. The other type of killer usually selects a partic- 
ular type of victim — nearly always of the opposite sex. There was 
something haphazard about the procedure of A.B.C. that seemed to me 
to be at war with the alphabetical selection. 

“The slight inferences I permitted myself to make. The choice of the 
A.B.C. suggested to me what I may call a railway-minded man . This is 
more common in men than women. Small boys love trains better than 
small girls do. It might be the sign, too, of an in some ways undevel- 
oped mind. The ‘boy’ motif still predominated. 

“The death of Betty Barnard and the manner of it gave me certain 
other indications. The manner of her death was particularly suggestive. 



172 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


(Forgive me, Mr. Fraser.) To begin with, she was strangled with her 
own belt — therefore she must almost certainly have been killed by 
some one with whom she was on friendly or affectionate terms. When 
I learnt something of her character a picture grew up in my mind. 

“Betty Barnard was a flirt. She liked attention from a personable 
male. Therefore A.B.C., to persuade her to come out with him, must 
have had a certain amount of attraction — of le sex appeal! He must be 
able, as you English say, to ‘get off.’ He must be capable of the click! I 
visualize the scene on the beach thus: the man admires her belt. She 
takes it off, he passes it playfully round her neck — says, perhaps, ‘I 
shall strangle you.’ It is all very playful. She giggles — and he pulls — ” 

Donald Fraser sprang up. He was livid. 

“M. Poirot — for God’s sake.” 

Poirot made a gesture. 

“It is finished. I say no more. It is over. We pass to the next murder, 
that of Sir Carmichael Clarke. Here the murderer goes back to his first 
method — the blow on the head. The same alphabetical complex — but 
one fact worries me a little. To be consistent the murderer should have 
chosen his towns in some definite sequence. 

“If Andover is the 155th name under A, then the B crime should be 
the 155th also — or it should be the 156th and the C the 157th. Here 
again the towns seemed to be chosen in rather too haphazard a fash- 
ion.” 

“Isn’t that because you’re rather biased on that subject, Poirot?” I 
suggested. “You yourself are normally methodical and orderly. It’s al- 
most a disease with you.” 

“No, it is not a disease! Quelle idee! But I admit that I may be 
over-stressing that point. Passons! 

“The Churston crime gave me very little extra help. We were un- 
lucky over it, since the letter announcing it went astray, hence no 
preparations could be made. 

“But by the time the D crime was announced, a very formidable sys- 
tem of defence had been evolved. It must have been obvious that 
A.B.C. could not much longer hope to get away with his crimes. 

“Moreover, it was at this point that the clue of the stockings came 
into my hands. It was perfectly clear that the presence of an individual 
selling stockings on and near the scene of each crime could not be a co- 
incidence. Hence the stocking-seller must be the murderer. I may say 
that his description, as given me by Miss Grey, did not quite corre- 
spond with my own picture of the man who strangled Betty Barnard. 

“I will pass over the next stages quickly. A fourth murder was 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


173 


committed — the murder of a man named George Earlsfield — it was 
supposed in mistake for a man named Downes, who was something of 
the same build and who was sitting near him in the cinema. 

“And now at last comes the turn of the tide . Events play against 
A.B.C. instead of into his hands. He is marked down — hunted — and at 
last arrested. 

“The case, as Hastings says, is ended! 

“True enough as far as, the public is concerned. The man is in prison 
and will eventually, no doubt, go to Broadmoor. There will be no more 
murders. Exit! Finis! R.I.P. 

u But not for me! 1 know nothing — nothing at all! Neither the why 
nor the wherefore. 

“And there is one small vexing fact. The man Gust has an alibi for 
the night of the Bexhill crime.” 

“That’s been worrying me all along,” said Franklin Clarke. 

“Yes. It worried me. For the alibi , it has the air of being genuine. But 
it cannot be genuine unless — and now we come to two very interesting 
speculations. 

“Supposing, my friends, that while Cust committed three of the 
crimes — the A, C and D crimes — he did not commit the B crime. ” 

“M. Poirot. It isn’t — ” 

Poirot silenced Megan Barnard with a look. 

“Be quiet, mademoiselle. I am for the truth, I am! I have done with 
lies. Supposing, I say, that A.B.C. did not commit the second crime. It 
took place, remember, in the early hours of the 25th — the day he had 
arrived for the crime. Supposing some one had forestalled him? What 
in those circumstances would he do? Commit a second murder, or lie 
low and accept the first as a kind of macabre present ?” 

“M. Poirot!” said Megan. “That’s a fantastic thought! All the crimes 
must have been committed by the same person!” 

He took no notice of her and went steadily on: 

“Such a hypothesis had the merit of explaining one fact — the dis- 
crepancy between the personality of Alexander Bonaparte Cust (who 
could never have made the click with any girl) and the personality of 
Betty Barnard's murderer. And it has been known, before now, that 
would-be murderers have taken advantage of the crimes committed by 
other people. Not all the crimes of Jack the Ripper were comhiitted 
by Jack the Ripper, for instance. So far, so good. 

“But then I came up against a definite difficulty. 

“Up to the time of the Barnard murder, no facts about the A.B.C. 
murders had been made public. The Andover murder had created little 



174 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


interest. The incident of the open railway guide had not even been 
mentioned in the press. It therefore followed that whoever killed Betty 
Barnard must have had access to facts known only to certain 
persons — myself, the police, and certain relations and neighbours of 
Mrs. Ascher. 

“That line of research seemed to lead me up against a blank wall.” 

The faces that looked at him were blank too. Blank and puzzled. 

Donald Fraser said thoughtfully: 

“The police, after all, are human beings. And they're good-looking 
men — ” 

He stopped, looking at Poirot inquiringly. 

Poirot shook his head gently. 

“No — it is simpler than that. I told you that there was a second spec- 
ulation. 

“Supposing that Cust was not responsible for the killing of Betty 
Barnard? Supposing that some one else killed her. Could that some one 
else have been responsible for the other murders too?” 

“But that doesn't make sense!” cried Clarke. 

“Doesn’t it? I did then what 1 ought to have done at first I examined 
the letters I had received from a totally different point of view. I had 
felt from the beginning that there was something wrong with them — 
just as a picture expert knows a picture is wrong. . . . 

“I had assumed, without pausing to consider, that what was wrong 
with them was the fact that they were written by a madman. 

“Now I examined them again — and this time I came to a totally dif- 
ferent conclusion. What was wrong with them was the fact that they 
were written by a sane man!” 

“What?” I cried. 

“But yes — just that precisely! They were wrong as a picture is 
wrong — because they were a fake! They pretended to be the letters of a 
madman — of a homicidal lunatic, but in reality they were nothing of 
the kind.” 

“It doesn’t make sense,” Franklin Clarke repeated. 

“Mais si! One must reason — reflect. What would be the object of 
writing such letters? To focus attention on the writer, to call attention 
to the murders! En verite, it did not seem to make sense at first sight. 
And then I saw light. It was to focus attention on several murders — on 

a group of murders Is it not your great Shakespeare who has said, 

‘You cannot see the trees for the wood’?” 

I did not correct Poirot’s literary reminiscences. I was trying to see 
his point. A glimmer came to me. He went on: 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


175 


“When do you notice a pin least? When it is in a pincushion! When 
do you notice an individual murder least? When it is one of a series of 
related murders. 

“I had to deal with an intensely clever, resourceful murderer — 
reckless, daring and a thorough gambler. Not Mr. Cust! He could never 
have committed these murders! No, I had to deal with a very different 
stamp of man — a man with a boyish temperament (witness the 
schoolboy-type letters and the railway guide), an attractive man to 
women, and a man with a ruthless disregard for human life, a man who 
was necessarily a prominent person in one of the crimes! Consider 
when a man or woman is killed, what are the questions that the police 
ask? Opportunity. Where was everybody at the time of the crime? Mo- 
tive. Who benefited by the deceased’s death? If the motive and the op- 
portunity are fairly obvious, what is a would-be murderer to do? Fake 
an a iibi — that is, manipulate time in some way? But that is always a 
hazardous proceeding. Our murderer thought of a more fantastic de- 
fence. Create a homicidal murderer! 

“I had now only to review the various crimes and find the possible 
guilty person. The Andover crime? The most likely suspect for that 
was Franz Ascher, but I could not imagine Ascher inventing and carry- 
ing out such an elaborate scheme, nor could I see him planning a pre- 
meditated murder. The Bexhill crime? Donald Fraser was a possibility. 
He had brains and ability, and a methodical turn of mind. But his mo- 
tive for killing his sweetheart could only be jealousy — and jealousy 
does not tend to premeditation. Also I learned that he had his holiday 
early in August, which rendered it unlikely that he had anything to do 
with the Churston crime. We come to the Churston crime next — and at 
once we are on infinitely more promising ground. 

“Sir Carmichael Clarke was an immensely wealthy man. Who in- 
herits his money? His wife, who is dying, has a life interest in it, and it 
then goes to his brother Franklin . ” 

Poirot turned slowly round till his eyes met those of Franklin Clarke. 

“I was quite sure then. The man I had known a long time in my se- 
cret mind was the same as the man whom I had known as a person. 
A.B.C . and Franklin Clarke were one and the same! The daring adven- 
turous character, the roving life, the partiality for England that had 
showed itself, very faintly, in the jeer at foreigners. The attractive free 
and easy manner — nothing easier for him than to pick up a girl in a 
cafe. The methodical tabular mind — he made a list here one day, ticked 
off over the headings A.B.C. — and finally, the boyish mind 
mentioned by Lady Clarke and even shown by his taste in 



176 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


have ascertained that there is a book in the library called The Railway 
Children by E. Nesbit. I had no further doubt in my own mind — 
A.B.C., the man who wrote the letters and committed the crimes, was 
Franklin Clarke . ” 

Clarke suddenly burst out laughing. 

“Very ingenious! And what about our friend Cust, caught red- 
handed? What about the blood on his coat? And the knife he hid in his 
lodgings? He may deny he committed the crimes — •” 

Poirot interrupted. 

“You are quite wrong. He admits the fact.” 

“What?” Clarke looked really startled. 

“Oh, yes,” said Poirot gently. “I had no sooner spoken to him than I 
was aware that Cust believed himself to be guilty. ” 

“And even that didn’t satisfy M. Poirot?” said Clarke. 

“No. Because as soon as I saw him I also knew that he could not be 
guilty ! He has neither the nerve nor the daring — nor, I may add, the 
brains to plan! All along I have been aware of the dual personality of 
the murderer. Now I see wherein it consisted. Two people were 
involved — the real murderer, cunning, resourceful and daring — and 
the pseudo murderer, stupid, vacillating and suggestible. 

“Suggestible — it is in that word that the mystery of Mr. Cust con- 
sists! It was not enough for you, Mr. Clarke, to devise this plan of a se- 
ries to distract attention from a single crime. You had also to have a 
stalking horse. 

“I think the idea first originated in your mind as the result of a 
chance encounter in a city coffee den with this odd personality with his 
bombastic Christian names. You were at that time turning over in your 
mind various plans for the murder of your brother.” 

“Really? And why?” 

“Because you were seriously alarmed for the future. I do not know 
whether you realize it, Mr. Clarke, but you played into my hands when 
you showed me a certain letter written to you by your brother. In it he 
displayed very clearly his affection and absorption in Miss Thora Grey. 
His regard may have been a paternal one — or he may have preferred to 
think it so. Nevertheless, there was a very real danger that on the death 
of your sister-in-law he might, in his loneliness, turn to this beautiful 
girl for sympathy and comfort and it might end — as so often happens 
with elderly men — in his marrying her. Your fear was increased by 
your knowledge of Miss Grey. You are, I fancy, an excellent, if some- 
what cynical judge of character. You judged, whether correctly or not, 
that Miss Grey was a type of young woman ‘on the make.’ You had no 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


177 


doubt that she would jump at the chance of becoming Lady Clarke. 
Your brother was an extremely healthy and vigorous man. There might 
be children and your chance of inheriting your brother’s wealth would 
vanish. 

“You have been, I fancy, in essence a disappointed man all your life. 
You have been the roiling stone — and you have gathered very little 
moss. You were bitterly jealous of your brother’s wealth. 

“I repeat then that, turning over various schemes in your mind, your 
meeting with Mr. Cust gave you an idea. His bombastic Christian 
names, his account of his epileptic seizures and of his headaches, his 
whole shrinking and insignificant personality, struck you as fitting him 
for the tool you wanted. The whole alphabetical plan sprang into your 
mind — Cusf s initials — the fact that your brother’s name began with a 
C and that he lived at Churston were the nucleus of the scheme. You 
even went so far as to hint to Cust at his possible end— though you 
could hardly hope that that suggestion would bear the rich fruit that it 
did! 

“Your arrangements were excellent. In Cusf s name you wrote for a 
large consignment of hosiery to be sent to him. You yourself sent a 
number of A.B.C.’s looking like a similar parcel. You wrote to 
hi m — a typed letter purporting to be from the same firm offering him 
a good salary and commission. Your plans were so well laid before- 
hand that you typed all the letters that were sent subsequently, and then 
presented him with the machine on which they had been typed l 

“You had now to look about for two victims whose names began 
with A and B respectively and who lived at places also beginning with 
those same letters. 

“You hit on Andover as quite a likely spot and your preliminary re- 
connaissance there led you to select Mrs. Ascher’s shop as the scene of 
the first crime. Her name was written clearly over the door, and you 
found by experiment that she was usually alone in the shop. Her mur- 
der needed nerve, daring and reasonable luck. 

“For the letter B you had to vary your tactics. Lonely women in 
shops might conceivably have been warned. I should imagine that you 
frequented a few cafes and teashops, laughing and joking with the girls 
there and finding out whose name began with the right letter and who 
would be suitable for your purpose. 

“In Betty Barnard you found just the type of girl you were looking 
for. You took her out once or twice, explaining to her that you were a 
married man, and that outings must therefore take place in a somewhat 
hole and comer manner. 



178 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Then, your preliminary plans completed, you set to work! You sent 
the Andover list to Cust, directing him to go there on a certain date, 
and you sent off the first A.B.C. letter to me. 

“On the appointed day, you went to Andover — and killed Mrs. 
Ascher— without anything occurring to damage your plans. 

“Murder No. 1 was successfully accomplished. 

“For the second murder, you took the precaution of committing it, in 
reality, the day before. I am fairly certain that Betty Barnard was killed 
well before midnight on the 24th July. 

“We now come to murder No. 3 — the important — in fact, the real 
murder from your point of view. 

“And here a full meed of praise is due to Hastings, who made a sim- 
ple and obvious remark to which no attention was paid. 

“He suggested that the third letter went astray intentionally! 

“And he was right! . . . 

“In that one simple fact lies the answer to the question that has puz- 
zled me so all along. Why were the letters addressed in the first place 
to Hercule Poirot, a private detective, and not to the police? 

“Erroneously I imagined some personal reason. 

“Not at all! The letters were sent to me because the essence of your 
plan was that one of them should be wrongly addressed and go 
astray — but you cannot arrange for a letter addressed to the Criminal 
Investigation Department of Scotland Yard to go astray! It is necessary 
to have a private address. You chose me as a fairly well-known person, 
and a person who was sure to take the letters to the police — and also, in 
your rather insular mind, you enjoyed scoring off a foreigner. 

“You addressed your envelope very cleverly — Whitehaven — 
Whitehorse — quite a natural slip. Only Hastings was sufficiently per- 
spicacious to disregard subtleties and go straight for the obvious! 

“Of course the letter was meant to go astray! The police were to be 
set on the trail only when the murder was safely over. Your brother’s 
nightly walk provided you with the opportunity. And so successfully 
had the A.B.C. terror taken hold on the public mind that the possibility 
of your guilt never occurred to any one. 

“After the death of your brother, of course, your object was accom- 
plished. You had no wish to commit any more murders. On the other 
hand, if the murders stopped without reason, a suspicion of truth might 
come to some one. 

“Your stalking horse, Mr. Cust, had so successfully lived up to his 
role of the invisible — because insignificant — man, that so far no one 
had noticed that the same person had been seen in the vicinity of the 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


179 


three murders! To your annoyance, even his visit to Combeside had not 
been mentioned. The matter had passed completely out of Miss Grey’s 
head. 

“Always daring, you decided that one more murder must take place 
but that this time the trail must be well blazed. 

“You selected Doncaster for the scene of operations. 

“Your plan was very simple. You yourself would be on the scene in 
the nature of things. Mr. Gust would be ordered to Doncaster by his 
firm. Your plan was to follow him round and trust to opportunity. Ev- 
erything fell out well. Mr. Gust went to a cinema. That was simplicity 
itself. You sat a few seats away from him. When he got up to go, you 
did the same. You pretended to stumble, leaned over and stabbed a 
dozing man in the row in front, slid the A.B.C. on to his knees and 
managed to collide heavily with Mr. Gust in the darkened doorway, 
wiping the knife on his sleeve and slipping it into his pocket. 

“You were not in the least at pains to choose a victim whose name 
began with D. Any one would do! You assumed — and quite rightly — 
that it would be considered to be a mistake . There was sure to be some 
one whose name began with D not far off in the audience. It would be 
assumed that he had been intended to be the victim. 

“And now, my friends, let us consider the matter from the point of 
view of the false A.B.C. — from the point of view of Mr. Cust. 

“The Andover crime means nothing to him. He is shocked and sur- 
prised by the Bexhill crime — why, he himself was there about the 
time! Then comes the Churston crime and the headlines in the newspa- 
pers. An A.B.C. crime at Andover when he was there, an A.B.C. crime 

at Bexhill, and now another close by Three crimes and he has been 

at the scene of each of them. Persons suffering from epilepsy often 
have blanks when they cannot remember what they have done Re- 

member that Cust was a nervous, highly neurotic subject and ex- 
tremely suggestible. 

‘Then he receives the order to go to Doncaster. 

“Doncaster! And the next A.B.C. crime is to be in Doncaster. He 
must have felt as though it was fate. He loses his nerve, fancies his 
landlady is looking at him suspiciously, and tells her he is going to 
Cheltenham. 

“He goes to Doncaster because it is his duty. In the afternoon he 
goes to a cinema. Possibly he dozes off for a minute or two. 

“Imagine his feelings when on his return to his inn he discovers that 
there is blood on his coat sleeve and a bloodstained knife in his pocket. 
All his vague forebodings leap into certainty. 



180 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“He — he himself— is the killer! He remembers his headaches — his 
lapses of memory. He is quite sure of the truth — he, Alexander Bona- 
parte Cust, is a homicidal lunatic. 

“His conduct after that is the conduct of a hunted animal. He gets 
back to his lodgings in London. He is safe there — known. They think 
he has been in Cheltenham. He has the knife with him still — a thor- 
oughly stupid thing to do, of course. He hides it behind the hall stand. 

“Then, one day, he is warned that the police are coming. It is the 
end! They know! 

“The hunted animal does his last run 

“I do not know why he went to Andover — a morbid desire, I think, 
to go and look at the place where the crime was committed — the crime 
he committed though he can remember nothing about it 

“He has no money left — he is worn out . . . his feet lead him of his 
own accord to the police station. 

“But even a cornered beast will fight. Mr. Cust fully believes that he 
did the murders but he sticks strongly to his plea of innocence. And he 
holds with desperation to that alibi for the second murder. At least that 
cannot be laid to his door. 

“As I say, when I saw him, I knew at once that he was not the mur- 
derer and that my name meant nothing to him. I knew too, that he 
thought himself the murderer! 

“After he had confessed his guilt to me, I knew more strongly than 
ever that my own theory was right.” 

“Your theory,” said Franklin Clarke, “is absurd!” 

Poirot shook his head. 

“No, Mr. Clarke. You were safe enough so long as no one suspected 
you . Once you were suspected proofs were easy to obtain.” 

“Proofs?” 

“Yes, I found the stick that you used in the Andover and Churston 
murders in a cupboard at Combeside. An ordinary stick with a thick 
knob handle. A section of wood had been removed and melted lead 
poured in. Your photograph was picked out from half a dozen others by 
two people who saw you leaving the cinema when you were supposed 
to be on the race-course at Doncaster. You were identified at Bexhill 
the other day by Milly Higley and a girl from the Scarlet Runner Road- 
house, where you took Betty Barnard to dine on the fatal evening. And 
finally — most damning of all — you overlooked a most elementary pre- 
caution. You left a fingerprint on Cust’s typewriter — the typewriter 
that, if you are innocent, you could never have handled. ” 

Clarke sat quite still for a minute, then he said: 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


181 


“Rouge, impair, manque ! — you win, M. Poirot! But it was worth 
trying!” 

With an incredibly rapid motion, he whipped out a small automatic 
from his pocket and held it to his head. 

I gave a cry and involuntarily flinched as I waited for the report. 

But no report came — the hammer clicked harmlessly. 

Clarke stared at it in astonishment and uttered an oath. 

“No, Mr. Clarke,” said Poirot. “You may have noticed I had a new 
manservant to-day — a friend of mine — an expert sneak thief. He re- 
moved your pistol from your pocket, unloaded it, and returned it all 
without your being aware of the fact.” 

“You unutterable little jackanapes of a foreigner!” cried Clarke, pur- 
ple with rage. 

“Yes, yes, that is how you feel. No, Mr. Clarke, no easy death for 
you. You told Mr. Cust that you had had near escapes from drowning. 
You know what that means — that you were bom for another fate.” 

“You — ” 

Words failed him. His face was livid. His fists clenched menacingly. 

Two detectives from Scotland Yard emerged from the next room. 
One of them was Crome. He advanced and uttered his time-honoured 
formula: “I warn you that anything you say may be used as evidence.” 

“He has said quite enough,” said Poirot, and he added to Clarke: 
“You are very full of an insular superiority, but for myself I consider 
your crime not an English crime at all — not above-board — not 
sporting — ” 



XXXV. 


V 


I am sorry to relate that as the door closed behind Franklin Clarke I 
laughed hysterically. 

Poirot looked at me in mild surprise. 

“It’s because you told him his crime was not sporting,” I gasped. 

“It was quite true. It was abominable — not so much the murder of 
his brother — but the cruelty that condemned an unfortunate man to a 
living death. To catch a fox and put him in a box and never let him go! 
That is not le sportl ” 

Megan Barnard gave a deep sigh. 

“I can’t believe it — I can’t. Is it true?” 

“Yes, mademoiselle. The nightmare is over.” 

She looked at him and her colour deepened. 

Poirot turned to Fraser. 

“Mademoiselle Megan, all along, was haunted by a fear that it was 
you who had committed the second crime.” 

Donald Fraser said quietly: 

“I fancied so myself at one time.” 

“Because of your dream?” He drew a little nearer to the young man 
and dropped his voice confidentially. “Your dream has a very natural 
explanation. It is that you find that already the image of one sister 
fades in your memory and that its place is taken by the other sister. Ma- 
demoiselle Megan replaces her sister in your heart, but since you can- 
not bear to think of yourself being unfaithful so soon to the dead, you 

182 



THE A.B.C. MURDERS 


183 


strive to stifle the thought, to kill it! That is the explanation of the 
dream.” 

Fraser’s eyes went toward Megan. 

“Do not be afraid to forget,” said Poirot gently. “She was not so well 
worth remembering. In Mademoiselle Megan you have one in a 
hundred — un coeur magnifiquel ” 

Donald Fraser’s eyes lit up. 

“I believe you are right.” 

We all crowded round Poirot asking questions, elucidating this point 
and that. 

“Those questions, Poirot? That you asked of everybody. Was there 
any point in them?” 

“Some of them were simplement une blague. But I learnt one thing 
that I wanted to know — that Franklin Clarke was in London when the 
first letter was posted — and also I wanted to see his face when I asked 
my question of Mademoiselle Thora. He was off his guard. I saw all 
the malice and anger in his eyes.” 

“You hardly spared my feelings,” said Thora Grey. 

“I do not fancy you returned me a truthful answer, mademoiselle,” 
said Poirot dryly. “And now your second expectation is disappointed. 
Franklin Clarke will not inherit his brother’s money.” 

She flung up her head. 

“Is there any need for me to stay here and be insulted?” 

“None whatever,” said Poirot and held the door open politely for 
her. 

“That fingerprint clinched things, Poirot,” I said thoughtfully. “He 
went all to pieces when you mentioned that.” 

“Yes, they are useful — fingerprints.” 

He added thoughtfully: 

“I put that in to please you, mon ami 

“But, Poirot,” I cried, “wasn’t it trueV 

“Not in the least, mon ami,” said Hercule Poirot. 

I must mention a visit we had from Mr. Alexander Bonaparte Cust a 
few days later. After wringing Poirot’s hand and endeavouring very in- 
coherently and unsuccessfully to thank him, Mr. Cust drew himself up 
and said: 

“Do you know, a newspaper has actually offered me a hundred 
pounds — a hundred pounds — for a brief account of my life and his- 
tory. I — I really don’t know what to do about it.” 

“I should not accept a hundred,” said Poirot. “Be firm. Say five hun- 
dred is your price. And do not confine yourself to one newspaper.” 



184 


AGATHA CHRISTIE 


“Do you really think — that I might — ” 

“You must realize,” said Poirot, smiling, “that you are a very fa- 
mous man. Practically the most famous man in England to-day.” 

Mr. Cust drew himself up still further. A beam of delight irradiated 
his face. 

“Do you know, I believe you’re right! Famous! In all the papers. 1 
shall take your advice, M. Poirot. The money will be most agreeable — 

most agreeable. I shall have a little holiday And then I want to give 

a nice wedding present to Lily Marbury — a dear girl — really a dear 
girl, M. Poirot.” 

Poirot patted him encouragingly on the shoulder. 

“You are quite right. Enjoy yourself. And — just a little word — what 
about a visit to an oculist. Those headaches, it is probably that you 
want new glasses.” 

“You think that it may have been that all the time?” 

“I do.” 

Mr. Cust shook him warmly by the hand. 

“You’re a very great man, M. Poirot.” 

Poirot, as usual, did not disdain the compliment. He did not even 
succeed in looking modest. 

When Mr. Cust had strutted importantly out, my old friend smiled 
across at me. 

“So, Hastings — we went hunting once more, did we not? Vive le 
sport”